“Instead of Learning Styles, let’s invest resources on instructional modes and methods proven to improve learning” says Ruth Clark in her blog published on ASTD website titled, Stop Wasting Resources on Learning Styles.
She cites a research paper titled ‘Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: A test of the hypothesis’ by Kratzig and Arbuthnott was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology to prove her point. As per the research “an individual uses a combination of different learning styles to learning effectively“. What it means is that it is wrong to brand an individual to be an auditory learner or a visual learner or a kinesthetic learner, when in reality he or she might use different faculties at different times based on the situation.
In another blog, Clive Shepherd is more vocal in rubbishing the whole concept of learning styles (which resulted in equally vocal comments from diverse individuals). While he acknowledges the differences in the way individuals learn, he finds other factors to be of more importance. They are,
- Individual motivation
- Prior knowledge of the subject
- Their ability to learn how to learn
I find these three aspects quite interesting because I can relate to them personally as a learner. If you ask me if I were a visual, auditory or a kinesthetic learner, I wouldn’t be able to tell. Let me explain why.
I had taken an MOOCs by Coursera earlier this Spring. It was to do with Writing – English Composition – Gaining Expertise. Now, the course was directly related to my job and therefore, I was very motivated to complete the course. I do have some knowledge about the basic rules of writing. These factors helped me organize my time and I managed to allocate 10 minutes every evening to watch the videos and complete the assignments during weekends. The days that I couldn’t watch the videos, I would increase the system volume and listen to the audio while I am in the kitchen fixing dinner. End result, I completed all assignments, peer reviews on time and managed to attain a statement of accomplished (given only when you fulfill a certain criteria).
Recently, I enrolled in a course titled, Marketing 101. Now, the subject is not directly related to my work though the knowledge would be helpful in my job. I did have the initial excitement and motivation but I couldn’t devote the specific time to watch videos (some were about 20 minutes long!). The first deadline in terms of a quiz was three weeks away and so I tended to procrastinate. When it was due for me to answer the quiz, I rushed and watched all the videos over a weekend and tried to respond to the quiz questions. I didn’t fare badly (got 15 out of 20) considering the rushed job; but then, I know that the depth of my learning could have been better if I had spent more time with the modules periodically. Here, we need to consider three factors:
1. Learner motivation was not strong and therefore I did not put in extra effort to plan and complete learning (watch videos) consistently.
2. There was no assignment/feedback/activity at the end of every week but only at the end of three weeks. This didn’t put pressure on me to complete the learning on a regular basis and therefore I pushed it to the end.
3. For the first three weeks, I was only a passive receptor of information via videos that got too theoretical sometimes. This didn’t get me to be enthusiastic about learning and therefore I didn’t devote that time every evening.
So, what do I infer from this experience of mine? Learners do use a combination of auditory, visual and kinesthetic elements to get on with learning. When the motive is learning, learners find ways and means to make it happen, just like I used the audio alone when I couldn’t devote my time in front of the PC. Therefore, instructional designers or learning design experts need to analyze the learners, their needs and time commitments and design courses that offer a variety of options to them to ensure learning happens. For example, for a sales person, a podcast on typical client objections and tips to overcome them could be a useful job aid or learning module.