What gets over 23 thousand views, 600 reactions and over 250 comments on a LinkedIn post? You guessed it! A post about Learning Styles. Why? Well, it’s complicated, like your Facebook status. No, it’s not. Although many people have already cross the bridge of cognitive dissonance and departed the fields of cognitive bias; learning styles are still the main reason why Learning and Development is neither learning nor developing. Instead of telling you why learning styles should have no bearing on your instructional and human performance support strategies, this post explores possible reasons why the myth of learning styles is still alive and kicking.
Teacher Education Programs
It is my suspicion that many colleges are still validating the use of learning styles and therefore, new graduate teachers are basing their approaches on this notion. At the very least, and to my dismay, the University of Central Florida exhibits traces of the recognition of learning styles. On a support page for their Distributed Learning Center, learning styles are discussed as not being a predictor of withdrawing from web courses. Wait it gets better, Stanford University (yes that one, the world renowned research institution in California) also shows evidence as recent as last year that professors are being taught to support learning styles. Let’s not forget that even Betsy DeVos was caught on video at her Senate confirmation hearing advocating she’s a visual learner. If this is happening at the highest levels of higher ed, what can we expect to see in community colleges or similar institutions? How can we expect L&D professionals to do any better if they have these sources to support their claims?
Learning Styles Are Now Learning Beliefs
Let’s face it, learning styles are now beliefs. Yes, I know this by experience. We already know there are colleges still disseminating this nonsense and therefore we can assume teachers are teaching kids this stuff too. In my own experience, my 12 year old daughter told me about her learning style and when I asked about it, she was convinced she is a visual learner. Furthermore, I overheard another school teacher say on a phone call with my wife “Hold on, let me share my screen because I’m a visual learner”. [Enter facepalm emoji here] So, what else can we say? Well, remember my LinkedIn post from last week. There’s not much else to say, go through the comments and you will see how some people responded like a person of faith when told God is not real (this is not my position, BTW ; ). Furthermore, the biggest problem is that many of the comments supporting the myth of learning styles came from established L&D practitioners with 10 or more years of experience.
Democratization of Social Media
Democratization is great, it makes the Internet and social media accessible to all. Anyone can write a blog and share their knowledge. However, all good things have a bad side. The problem with everyone having access is now you have to be a skilled researcher to filter out all the inaccurate content and in some respect, non-evidence opinion pieces found everywhere. There are just tons of wrong information out there and not just about learning styles. Why would we blame our kids or teachers for that matter if a Google search on learning styles yields this blog post by the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences in the top four results supporting learning styles. Luckily, we also have institutions like Vanderbilt University and publications like The Atlantic who seem to be fighting the good fight.
What should L&D do?
Learning and Development professionals should embrace the tenets of their profession i.e. learn and develop. This means learn to accept you are wrong if you still support the myth of learning styles and develop strategies informed by research evidence. Please don’t wait until your C-suite figures out that your practice is based on personal beliefs and myths that may waste the organizations’ time and money. If you are still supporting learning styles as an L&D professional, you are just appealing to your learning audience and contributing to the limitation of their true learning potential. Instead, focus on the job tasks, responsibilities and the essential faculties to execute them i.e. nothing is more effective to learn how to pilot a plane than a flight simulator and actual flight hours.