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Dr Peter Honey: Learning doesn’t have to be fun


Even the most unwilling can be encouraged to learn, but the experience does not have to be fun to be effective, according to learning styles guru, Dr Peter Honey.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Charity Learning Consortium, Honey, who developed the Learning Styles Questionnaire, turned the old adage of 'you can lead a horse to water but cannot make it drink' on its head in order to make his point.
"You can't force horses to drink, but you can make it as easy as possible for them to do so" by creating an environment that fosters such activity, he said. If the horse were really thirsty, plenty of other horses were already drinking to encourage it to join them and the water was more tasty than usual, it would be more likely to sup.
But simply introducing a learning styles questionnaire was not "sufficient on its own to promote effective learning", with learners' motivations, environment and a range of external pressures all having a key part to play.
Moreover, the assumption that 'learning should be fun' was not necessarily correct. "I've never bought into the idea that every learning experience should be jolly. There is no correlation between the popularity of something and how much you learn. If it's not so enjoyable, you may have to put more effort in and ultimately learn more as a result," Honey said.
The rationale is that people learn from their mistakes, even if they are painful, and in fact, richer learning can take place as a result of adversity.
But Honey also recommended employing an 'force and support' principal, which means that if learning is going to be enforced for whatever reason, adequate support must be put in place to make the experience effective.
Honey's comments followed the publication of a review of existing learning styles research in the US journal 'Psychological Science in the Public Interest' by a team of psychologists earlier this month. It concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that children have specific learning styles.
The researchers told the New York Times: "The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing."

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