Sunday, September 12, 2010

News: Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help the Student

Dear all,

Below is another article about the latest finding on learning styles
of students which relates very closely to the teacher's own learning styles
and teaching rather than to simply categorize students according to their
perceived learning styles which have been questioned of late.

My own take on this issue based on my readings and annecdoctal evidence is
successful learning occurs in the teacher's own values and personal self
that he/she brings into the classroom that motivates students to want to learn, eventhough the teacher's method may just be "chalk and talk".
(Refer to Parker J Palmer: Courage to Teach)

Rodney Tan Chai Whatt


December 15, 2009

Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students

By David Glenn

If you've ever sat through a teaching seminar, you've probably heard
a lecture about "learning styles." Perhaps you were told that some
students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and others
are kinesthetic learners. Or maybe you were given one of the dozens
of other learning-style taxonomies that scholars and consultants
have developed.

Almost certainly, you were told that your instruction should match
your students' styles. For example, kinesthetic learners—students
who learn best through hands-on activities—are said to do better in
classes that feature plenty of experiments, while verbal learners are
said to do worse.

Now four psychologists argue that you were told wrong. There is no
strong scientific evidence to support the "matching" idea, they
contend in a paper published this week in Psychological Science in the
Public Interest. And there is absolutely no reason for professors to
adopt it in the classroom.

"We were startled to find that there is so much research published
on learning styles, but that so little of the research used
experimental designs that had the potential to provide decisive
evidence," says Harold E. Pashler, a professor of psychology at the
University of California at San Diego and the paper's lead author.
"Lots of people are selling tests and programs for customizing
education that completely lack the kind of experimental evidence
that you would expect for a drug," Mr. Pashler says. "Now maybe
the FDA model isn't always appropriate for education—but that's a
conversation we need to have."

Advocates of learning styles respond that Mr. Pashler is the one who
lacks evidence. Robert J. Sternberg, dean of arts and sciences at
Tufts University and a psychologist who has done a lot of work on
learning styles, says in an e-mail message to The Chronicle that the
researchers did not fully survey the scholarly literature, and thus
"come across looking either biased about or largely ignorant of the

Mr. Pashler's study does not dispute the existence of learning styles.
But it asserts that no one has ever proved that any particular style of
instruction simultaneously helps students who have one learning
style while also harming students who have a different learning

Of the hundreds of research papers that have been published on
learning styles, Mr. Pashler says, almost none have randomly
assigned students into one classroom type or another. Only that
kind of experiment, he says, can suggest anything definitive about
causation. And the few studies that have used an adequate research
design, he adds, have mostly failed to support the hypothesis that
teaching styles should match students' learning styles.

More Alike Than Different

Consider an experiment about teaching the structure of complex
molecules. The matching hypothesis might predict that kinesthetic
learners would absorb the concept best by building ball-and-stick
models in the lab, while verbal learners would do better by reading a
few pages about the logic of molecular design.

That sounds intuitive. But according to Mr. Pashler and his coauthors,
almost every well-designed study of that type has
discovered that one instructional style actually works best for both

What happens,Mr. Pashler says, is something like this:
Experimenters randomly assign students to a classroom that uses
laboratory lessons or to a classroom that uses texts. At the end of
the week, students are tested on their knowledge of molecular

Among the students who are taught in a hands-on laboratory
setting, it turns out that the kinesthetic learners enjoy their lessons
much more than their verbal peers do. They also perform better on
the test at the end of the week. Let's say that the kinesthetic
students average a 95 on the test, while the verbal students' average
is 80.

That might seem like strong evidence for the learning-styles
hypothesis. Not so fast, Mr. Pashler says.
Look at the second classroom, where students learn about
molecules by reading texts. Here, the verbal students enjoy the
lessons much more than their kinesthetic peers do. But on the test,
both the verbal and kinesthetic students average around 70. The
verbal students are actually better off learning this concept in a
laboratory, even though they enjoy it less.

In almost every actual well-designed study,Mr. Pashler and his
colleagues write in their paper, "Learning Styles: Concepts and
Evidence," the pattern is similar: For a given lesson, one
instructional technique turns out to be optimal for all groups of
students, even though students with certain learning styles may not
love that technique.

Matching Style With Content

What this means for instructors, Mr. Pashler says, is that they
should not waste any time or energy trying to determine the
composition of learning styles in their classrooms. (Are 50 percent
of my students visual learners? Are 20 percent of them kinesthetic

Instead, teachers should worry about matching their instruction to
the content they are teaching. Some concepts are best taught
through hands-on work, some are best taught through lectures, and
some are best taught through group discussions.

If the matching hypothesis is not well supported, then why do so
many learning-styles studies show positive effects? Hundreds of
studies that do not meet Mr. Pashler's stringent criteria for
experimental design suggest—at least loosely—that students do
better when instructors are trained in learning-styles theory.
One possibility is that the mere act of learning about learning styles
prompts teachers to pay more attention to the kinds of instruction
they are delivering. An instructor who attends a learning-styles
seminar might start to offer a broader mixture of lectures,
discussions, and laboratory work—and that variety of instruction
might turn out to be better for all students, irrespective of any

"Even though the learning-style idea might not work," says Richard
E. Mayer, a professor of psychology at the University of California at
Santa Barbara, "it might encourage teachers to think about how
their students learn and what would be the best instructional
methods for a particular lesson."

In other words, learning-styles seminars might be effective, but not
for the reasons that their designers believe.

Mr. Mayer helped lead a study six years ago that failed to find any
relationship between instructional styles and the performance of
"verbalizer" and "visualizer" students. He believes that Mr. Pashler
and his colleagues have done strong work in debunking the
matching hypothesis.

Bibliography Is Faulted

But not everyone is impressed by the new paper. Mr. Sternberg of
Tufts (and a former longtime professor of psychology at Yale
University), says in his e-mail message that while he holdsMr.
Pashler and his colleagues in high esteem, he believes they did a
poor job here.

Several of the most-cited researchers on learning styles,Mr.
Sternberg points out, do not appear in the paper's bibliography.
"The authors draw negative conclusions about a field they fail
adequately to review," Mr. Sternberg says.

Mr. Sternberg and several colleagues have worked intensively on
models of learning styles for more than a decade. In 1999, he and
three coauthors published a paper in the European Journal of
Psychological Assessment that found that students who were
strongly oriented toward "analytical," "creative," or "practical"
intelligence did better if they were taught by instructors who
matched their strength. (In their paper, Mr. Pashler and his
colleagues cite Mr. Sternberg's 1999 study as the only well-designed
experiment to have found such a pattern—though they add that the
study "has peculiar features that make us view it as providing only
tenuous evidence.")

Susan M. Rundle, a learning-styles consultant who is working with
instructors at Alabama A&M University, also says that the research
base is much stronger than Mr. Pashler and his colleagues believe.
And she adds that the paper's focus on the "matching hypothesis" is
somewhat beside the point.

"In my work in higher education, I've found that it's difficult to get
professors to match their instruction to their students," says Ms.
Rundle, who is president of Performance Concepts International,
which promotes a learning-styles model developed by Kenneth J.
Dunn, a professor of education at City University of New York's
Queens College, and the late Rita Dunn, who taught for many years
at St. John's University, in Queens.

"What we do try to get professors to do," Ms. Rundle says, "and
where we've been successful, is to become aware of their own
learning style and how that affects the way they teach.What are
some things that they can do in the classroom other than just

The Trouble With Tracking

The grandfather of this territory is David A. Kolb, a professor of
organizational behavior at CaseWestern Reserve University, who
began to study learning styles in the late 1960s. In an interview, Mr.
Kolb agrees with Mr. Sternberg that Mr. Pashler's review of the
literature seems too thin.

But Mr. Kolb also says that the paper's bottom line is probably
correct: There is no strong evidence that teachers should tailor their
instruction to their students' particular learning styles. (Mr. Kolb
has argued for many years that college students are better off if they
choose a major that fits their learning style. But his advice to
teachers is that they should lead their classes through a full
"learning cycle," without regard to their students' particular styles.)
"Matching is not a particularly good idea," Mr. Kolb says. "The
paper correctly mentions the practical and ethical problems of
sorting people into groups and labeling them. Tracking in education
has a bad history."

Mr. Pashler, for his part, says that he and his colleagues are still
open to the idea that some kinds of matching are actually effective.
"Most of what we're pointing to in this paper is an absence of
evidence," he says. "Here's what you have to show—and they aren't
showing it. But there may yet be better studies in the future."

Mr. Pashler's co-authors are Mark McDaniel, a professor of
psychology atWashington University in St. Louis; Doug Rohrer, an
associate professor of psychology at the University of South Florida;

The Chronicle of Higher Education
1255 Twenty-Third St,
N.W. Washington, D.C. 20037
and Robert A. Bjork,
a professor of psychology at
the University of California at Los Angeles.

1 comment:

  1. The kolb learning style has been an integral component to teaching in schools for quite some time. While some aspects of it may seem outdated, in its core there is still much to learn from. While we shouldn't due away with it entirely, we need to take it apart and reassemble it with what works.