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Learning Styles Warning


The Learning and Skills Development Agency has warned against the negative stereotyping effect of using learning styles analysis.

A 16-month research project, funded by the Agency, into learning styles theories and commercial products claim to have found "a bedlam of contradictory claims".

It warned that some of the most widely used instruments have low reliability, poor validity and a negligible impact on teaching and learning and that simplistic judgements were being made of people's learning styles.

Professor Frankfield Coffield, who conducted the research, said: “Some of the learning styles instruments – many of them well-known commercial products - make extravagant claims of success which are not upheld when subjected to scrutiny.

"Furthermore, people who use these instruments may come to think in stereotypes, tending to label vocational students, for instance, as if they are all ‘non-reflective’, ‘activity-based’ learners.”
He added that there was a danger that the learner could be limited if s/he internalises that stereotype.

“If learners think they are a ‘low auditory, kinaesthetic learner’, they might see little point in reading a book or listening to anyone for more than a few minutes.

"We believe that teachers and trainers should move away from individual learning styles to broader notions of how learners approach and conceive of learning," he added.

Main findings
* The research reveals “a proliferation of concepts, instruments and strategies” and “a bedlam of contradictory claims”. The report says: “The outcome – the constant generation of new approaches, each with its own language – is both bewildering and off-putting to practitioners and to other academics who do not specialise in this field.”

* Some of the most widely used instruments were said to have low reliability, poor validity and a negligible impact on teaching and learning. However it added that not all instruments are designed for use by teachers and students; some were better suited to managers and their employers in business.

* Simplistic judgements were being made about learning styles, it said. The research revealed examples of stereotyping, with learners labelled as “verbalisers or imagers, activists or reflectors, left brainers or right brainers”.

The full report is available from the LSDA website.


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