The great misconception of learning styles

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For the uninitiated, learning styles claim to group ways people learn, and attempt to explain why individuals’ learn differently. 

These styles have been developed by the likes of David Kolb, Neil Fleming and Anthony Gregorc.

However, one of the main problems with them is that they are both overused and abused, according to David Boud, Emeritus Professor at the University of Technology.

“Frankly, there are very few situations in which, even if they were true, even if there was a good foundation for them, you could actually get them to work,” he told HRM.

“What situations can you control a training program enough to offer completely different experiences to different members of a group?” he asked.

“One can envisage a few occasions where that might be possible but on a day-to-day basis there are very, very few training programs that you could apply them to.”

For Boud, there is a problem at two ends. One end is that the data doesn’t stack up very well in terms of how well-founded they are, and the empirical evidence doesn’t really support them, he said.

He added that at the other end even if they were true, it would be very difficult to do much with them.

Boud provides an example when he was teaching a course many years ago and he happened to, because of the different groups he was working with, complete Kolb’s learning styles three times in about a week.

“I thought if it’s true that learning styles are pretty invariant than what should happen is I should get consistent results,” he said.

“What happened was I ended up in three different quadrants on those three occasions,” he said. 

(Continued...)

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