Dr Kerry Hempenstall, Senior Industry Fellow, School of Education, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.
First published Dec 6 2012, updated June 2018
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Like the three cueing system, the notion of learning styles has continued to evoke surprising enthusiasm among many educators. It has undeniable intuitive appeal – after all don’t we value individual difference? When a concept has social currency it seems churlish to dispute its existence on purely rational or empirical grounds. If it feels right, then one may development an emotional attachment that is difficult to shift even when there's an absence of research to support its usefulness in the classroom. If learning styles were simply a value system that stimulated teachers to provide the best possible teaching to all their charges then there would be little cause for concern. However, there are practical implications that may actually disadvantage some students, either because the method chosen is unhelpful to the concept or operation being taught, or simply because of the opportunity cost of time wasted when an inefficient approach is employed. Struggling students can least afford low quality or inefficient instruction.
“To be a useful tool in instructional decision making, a theory of individual differences in learners must do the following things well:
(a) Specify the nature of the underlying trait in a way that is convincing and valid.
(b) There needs to be a measure of this trait which meets acceptable psychometric standards.
(c) The theory needs to describe why this trait is relevant to educational contexts, i.e., to specify which salient outcomes are related to which specific levels of the trait.
(d) There must be an information basis, preferably through responsibly executed research, suggesting that education outcomes are attributable to learner-situation interactions rather than task characteristics alone.
When assayed against criteria such as these, it is apparent that, in general terms, the learning styles movement has many deficiencies (Riding & Rayner, 1998). Contrary to the impression gained from net searching, there is not any currently available technology available to the classroom teacher which will enable his or her educational goals to be facilitated through diagnosis of student learning style”.