Styles and guidelines are essential to all forms of instruction. This fact is not debated, but what is certainly questioned is the effectiveness of existing learning styles and their utility. A paper on the Concept and Evidence of Utility of Learning Styles by Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer and Robert Bjorg, details the evidence validating the success of existing methodologies of teaching and learning. This search leads them to find little or no certainty of a specific method, and to suggest that contrary to popular belief, learning styles cannot be effectively suited in general learning environments.
What stands out in the study for me, in context of the current learning scene, are observations that are simple – but when put to practice means good business for the industry.
Know thy audience: Factors like aptitude, education and cultural influences define each learner in a different way. Defining the learner or the learner group then becomes the first step to fruitful learning.
The origin of this theory can be traced back to the mid-twentieth century, by what was probably the first testimony in the field of human personality by Karl Jung. His thoughts were further concretized into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test. To this day, this test is a popular tool in understanding the aptitude and occupational skills of a person. While objective studies have failed to show how this classification of people into clusters helps, it has nevertheless failed to hamper its popularity. The Myer-Briggs test was probably the first in the long line of such studies and test that are now available and popularly used.
Coming back to the moot point, whatever the ways and means are of defining ones audience, the knowledge helps in presenting information and imparting awareness. Going by one of the more popular adverts of the learning-styles movement – ‘One style does not fit all…’ adopting different styles for different groups is definitely warranted.
Interaction is at the heart of learning: Too much or too little – is that quintessential question, when defining the levels of interaction in learning?
How much of interaction is best suited for the learner group? External factors make a learner group highly aware of its potential and capabilities. This knowledge if well understood can be the backbone of any learning lesson. Groups with heightened awareness of their own capabilities do better with little or moderate intervention. Often they tend on learning alone or in small groups of similar-minded people. On the other side are people who are not sure of their capability in adapting to new skills. Hand holding and frequent intervention can show results in this scenario.
Testing… How does that enhance learning? : Is testing just about asking questions and determining retention? Testing is more than just that. At the testing stage too, interaction plays an important role. It is suggested that prompting might be necessary for learner groups to ascertain the success of a learning module. Not only at the final stages or the end, but at an initial level too a timely prompt can enhance retention and infuse confidence. This intervention is needed for all learners. But again, the degree of it will differ for different groups or individuals.
So, to conclude, learning styles and methodologies are many. Some are proven while some are controversial. While not slavishly following a single one, but adopting the best of all worlds, is a road well-trodden. Debates over the utility of these styles and methodologies continue, but learning does not wait for them to conclude, does it?