Learning styles, or just what works?

I’m writing this during my annual Faculty Assembly.

Among (many) other things, we’ve had several mentions of learning styles, mainly because the university seems to be moving to stopping using hard copies of materials in teaching and cutting back on the few remaining face-to-face elements we have in our distance-learning model.

Learning styles were thrown into the discussion, amid concerns about excluding some students.

This is unsurprising, given how pervasive educators’ belief in the concept of styles is, but perhaps more surprising, given how weak the evidence for styles actually is.

Chad has written about this here for many years, so rather than rehearse those arguments again, I’m just going to point to this discussion from Newton and Miah, who explore this dilemma.

Rather than trying to debunk styles, they suggest a more productive approach might be to focus on what works.

To take my current (and on-going) example, rather than making arguments for hard copies or in-person elements because of particular styles, we might more usefully consider whether these are associated with improved outcomes for students, either as a whole or for sub-sets.

This might feel like a bit of jujitsu, if we end up saying some things work better for some students, but the difference is that we’re not back-constructing to a model that says X always works better for Y group.

Being able to discern the value of particular teaching elements in particular contexts is central here and provides more scope to adapt to the particularities of our own situations.

One size doesn’t fit all, but that also means one size doesn’t necessarily fit a sub-group.

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