robertogreco + paulkirschner   2

Science / Fiction — Carol Black
"‘Evidence-based’ education, scientific racism, & how learning styles became a myth."



"1. The Debunkers
2. The Map and the Territory
3. The Evidence
4. The Territory Beyond the Map
5. Here Be Dragons"



"A disturbing feature of this discourse in education is the frequency with which it takes the form of male researchers and pundits telling female educators that their views on learning are cognitively childish and irrational and should therefore be disregarded. Cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, a prominent debunker, has shared some rather patronizing speculations as to why the vast majority of (mostly female) teachers persist in thinking their students have different learning styles ("I think learning styles theory is widely accepted because the idea is so appealing. It would be so nice if it were true.") His paternal tone is especially disturbing since he makes his case by failing to mention the existence of legitimate competing views from respected scientists and education researchers."



"But despite the debunkers' undeniable passion on the topic, the fact is that there are extremely reputable scientists on both sides of this debate. In other words, as Grundmann and Stehr put it, "the basic rift in these debates is not between lay people and experts but between two alliances that advocate different courses of action based on divergent basic values and knowledge claims... we see representatives of science and the lay public on both sides."

So what are the two alliances in the case of learning styles? And what are their divergent basic values?

Luckily, you don't have to dig very deep to find out. If you review the writings of the most vocal learning styles 'debunkers,' you quickly find that they are almost always simply advocates for traditional, teacher-controlled direct instruction. They tend to favor a traditional "core knowledge" curriculum, traditional forms of discipline, and they adhere to a traditional IQ-based view of intelligence. In other words, they’re just educational conservatives. (In the UK they openly call themselves "trads" as opposed to "progs.") They trumpet any research that supports their preferences and ignore or attempt to discredit any research that leans the other way. They don't like progressive or self-directed or culturally relevant approaches to education. They don't tend to concern themselves overmuch with less tangible aspects of children's well-being like, say, "happiness" or "creativity" or "mental health." They define "what works" in education in terms of test scores.

But the reality is that you can’t say ‘what works” in education until you answer the question: works for what? As Yong Zhao explains in “What Works May Hurt: Side Effects in Education,” it’s reasonable to assume, in education as in medicine, that any given intervention may have negative as well as positive effects; if we want to claim to be evidence-based, we need to look at both. What raises test scores may lower creativity or intrinsic motivation, and vice versa; this study, for example, found that direct instruction hastened young children's mastery of a specific task, but lowered exploratory behavior. So “what the research supports” depends on what you value, what you care most about, what kind of life you want for your children."



"The first thing to understand about learning styles is that there is no agreed-on definition of the term. Multiple frameworks have been proposed, from the popular Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic framework, to the Concrete-Abstract framework, to the Holistic-Analytical, Impulsive-Reflective, Convergent-Divergent, Field-Dependent-Field-Independent, Cognitive-Affective-Physiological –– one literature review identified 71 different models. As Kirschner and van Merriënboer grouse, if we consider each learning style as dichotomous (e.g. visual vs. verbal) that means there are 2 to the power of 71 possible combinations of learning styles – more than the number of people alive on earth.

They say that like it’s a bad thing. But as astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson remarked recently, “In science, when human behavior enters the equation, things go nonlinear. That's why physics is easy and sociology is hard.”

Zhang and her frequent collaborators Robert Sternberg and Stephen Rayner, co-editors of The Handbook of Intellectual Styles, are not fans of the 'debunkers.' They use the term intellectual style as an "umbrella term for all style constructs," (including learning styles, cognitive styles, perceptual styles, and thinking styles) which relate to "people's preferred ways of processing information and dealing with tasks." (Notice the word "preferred" here, since that will come up later.) As these authors see it, intellectual style differences are complex, involving cognitive, affective, physiological, psychological, and sociological dimensions. Researchers Maria Kozhevnikov, Carol Evans, and Stephen Kosslyn use the term cognitive style (which includes learning style constructs), to describe "patterns of adaptation to the external world that develop through interaction with the surrounding environment on the basis of innate predispositions, the interactions among which are shaped by changing environmental demands."

The most promising style constructs, in Kozhevnikov's view, are not the narrow visual-auditory-kinesthetic (V-A-K) perceptual categories, but the richer constructs of "context-dependency vs. independency, rule-based vs. intuitive processing, internal vs. external locus of control, and integration vs. compartmentalization." These cognitive tendencies are neither set in stone nor completely malleable; they intersect with cognition at multiple levels, from perception to concept formation to higher-order cognitive processing to meta-cognitive processing.

So it's complicated. And yet despite what researchers Elena Grigorenko and Samuel Mandelman call "the very fine texture" of the "intertwined threads of intelligence and personality" that make learning styles so devilishly hard to define, in practice these differences are not at all difficult to see.

Which is probably why somewhere between 75 and 90% of teachers believe they exist.

In self-directed learning situations where children are able to follow their curiosity in their own ways, differences that might be muted or masked in a controlled instruction setting become very clearly visible. Sensory preferences intersect with social, emotional, and cognitive differences in complex and individual ways that profoundly shape how each child enters and explores and takes hold of the world. One child will spend quiet hours poring over illustrated books about science or history; another child is quickly bored by those, but gets deeply engaged in active social projects like building or filmmaking or citizen science. One child listens in on adult conversations and remembers everything she hears, absorbing knowledge like a sponge; another child creates and constructs knowledge in her own hands-on ways, writing her first book before she reads one. One child is observant and cautious, always making sure of things before venturing into unfamiliar terrain; another child is bold and intuitive, diving in head first and filling in the gaps later in a "fake it till you make it" spirit. The river moves steadily toward the sea, but it follows many divergent pathways, and the shortest distance between two points may not be a straight line.

In other words, human learning differences are complex, multi-dimensional, and difficult to definitively pin down, but this much is clear: the kids have different styles of learning. So how does something so intuitively obvious and readily observed cease to exist in the eyes of the debunkers?"



"The debunkers admit that people have fairly stable learning preferences. They also admit that people have variable abilities in visual v. auditory memory, etc. When you combine preference with ability –– e.g. "I have a good visual memory, and I prefer information presented visually" –– that’s probably what many speakers of the English language understand by the term “learning style.”

So that thing? That exists.

But here’s where the crucial elision occurs, and the claim shifts to the matching hypothesis. In a literature review of learning styles research, Pashler et al. state it this way: the theory of learning styles is only confirmed if we can successfully sort individuals into groups “for which genuine group-by-treatment interactions can be demonstrated.”

What are “group-by-treatment” interactions? Well, in this scenario the teacher diagnoses and sorts the learners into groups, applies a randomized instructional “treatment” to each group, and then administers a test to determine which “treatment” worked better –– like a drug trial.

It's important to note that the debunkers' claim is thus based almost entirely on studies of teacher-controlled direct instruction; they don't involve scenarios where learners have agency. But the problem with studying learning in teacher-controlled settings is that it may be unclear whether you're measuring something about the learning or something about the teaching. In other words, you have to be sure that "Treatment A" isn't just a better or more interesting lesson than "Treatment B."

How can you solve that problem? Simple. By excluding from the list of methodologically acceptable studies anything that involves the kind of creative activities that good teachers might come up with to address the needs of diverse learners.

From the standpoint of strict scientific method, this is, of course, correct; your experimental protocol should control every variable except the one you're testing. How can you achieve this? By further simplification, of course: by creating a lesson so lacking in complexity that it can’t possibly be interesting to anyone. Like memorizing a random list of words.

Here’s where you run … [more]
carolblack  learningstyles  evidence  2018  paulkirschner  jeroenvanmerriënboer  li-fangzhang  mariakozhevnikov  carolevans  elenagrigorenko  stephenkosslyn  robertsternberg  learning  education  data  danielwillingham  daviddidau  joanneyatvin  power  yongzhao  research  unschooling  deschooling  directinstruction  children  happiness  creativity  well-being  iq  intelligence  traditional  testing  intrinsicmotivation  mastery  behavior  howwelearn  self-directed  self-directedlearning  ignorance  franksmith  race  racism  oppression  intersectionality  coreknowledge  schooling  schooliness  homeschool  multiliteracies  differences  hierarchy  participation  participatory  democracy  leannebetasamosakesimpson  andrealandry  pedagogy  teaching  howweteach  colonization  leisterman  ibramkendi  standardizedtesting  standardization  onesizefitsall  cornelpewewardy  cedarriener  yanaweinstein 
june 2018 by robertogreco
All You Need to Know About the 'Learning Styles' Myth, in Two Minutes | WIRED
"On a sunny hike along a Madeiran levada a couple of years ago, I got chatting to a retired school teacher and I told him about the brain myths book I was writing. An affable chap, he listened with interest about the 10 percent myth and other classic misconceptions, but his mood changed when I mentioned learning styles. This is the mistaken idea that we learn better when the instruction we receive is tailored to our preferred way of learning. The friendly teacher was passionate about the concept’s merit – his own preferred style, he said, was to learn “by doing” and no-one would ever convince him otherwise.

How widely believed is the myth?
The teacher I met in Madeira is far from alone in endorsing the myth. It is propagated not only in hundreds of popular books, but also through international conferences and associations, by commercial companies who sell ways of measuring learning styles, and in teacher training programs. The TeachingEnglish website published by the British Council and the BBC states boldly “Your students will be more successful if you match your teaching style to their learning styles” – this includes, they claim, being: right- or left-brained, analytic vs. dynamic, and visual vs. auditory. A recent international survey of teachers from the UK, China and elsewhere found that 96 percent believed in the idea of preferred learning styles.

Why is the idea so popular?
Parents, understandably, like to think that their children are receiving a tailored education. Teachers, also understandably, like to think that they are sensitive to each child’s needs and many are clearly motivated to find out more about how to fulfill this ideal. Also, no-one likes to think of themselves as low in ability. It’s more comforting to my ego to think that a class was difficult because of a teaching style I didn’t like than because I wasn’t concentrating or because I’m simply not clever or motivated enough.

Is there any evidence to support the learning styles concept?
Yes there is a little, but experts on the topic like Harold Pashler and Doug Rohrer point out that most of this evidence is weak. Convincing evidence for learning styles would show that people of one preferred learning style learned better when taught material in their favored way, whereas a different group with a different preference learned the same material better when taught in their favored fashion. Yet surprisingly few studies of this format have produced supporting evidence for learning styles; far more evidence (such as this study) runs counter to the myth. What often happens is that both groups perform better when taught by one particular style. This makes sense because although each of us is unique, usually the most effective way for us to learn is based not on our individual preferences but on the nature of the material we’re being taught – just try learning French grammar pictorially, or learning geometry purely verbally.

Are there any other problems with the myth?
Oh yes! Another major problem is that there are so many different possible ways to describe people’s preferred learning styles. Indeed, a review published in 2004 identified over 71 different styles mooted in the literature. As Paul Kirschner and Jeroen Merrienboer explained in their recent article on “urban legends” in education, if we view each learning style as dichotomous (e.g. visual vs. verbal) that means there are 2 to the power of 71 combinations of identified learning styles – more than the number of people alive on earth! What’s more, even if we accept a particular scheme for measuring learning styles, evidence shows that learning style questionnaires are unreliable and people’s self-reported preferences are poorly correlated with their actual performance. In other words, a person might think they learn better, say, visually rather than verbally, but their performance says otherwise! The fact is, the more accurate predictor for how well a person will fare in a math learning task, is most likely not the degree of match between their preferred learning style and the teaching style, but their past performance on math tests.

So, should we completely give up on tailoring our teaching styles?
No. While people are often poor at judging which teaching methods are most effective for them, and while there is little strong evidence for the benefits of matching teaching style to preferred learning style, this does not mean there is no scope for tailoring teaching style to improve learning. For example, as Kirschner and Merrienboer point out, there is evidence that novices learn better from studying examples, whereas those with more expertise learn better by solving problems themselves. Other research shows how learning is improved (for most everyone) by combining different activities – such as drawing alongside more passive study.

Let’s bury this harmful myth
Many leading experts believe the myth of preferred learning styles is not just a benign misconception, but is likely causing harm. As Scott Lilienfeld and colleagues write in 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, the approach “encourages teachers to teach to students’ intellectual strengths rather than their weaknesses.” Yet, they add: “students need to correct and compensate for their shortcomings, not avoid them.” There’s also an economic case. Many learning style questionnaires and training programs are expensive. “Given the costs of assessing students’ supposed learning styles and offering differentiated instruction,” write Rohrer and Pashler, the news of the lack of scientific evidence for learning styles “should come as good news to educators at all levels.”"
education  myths  myth  learning  learningstyles  2015  via:audreywatters  christianjarrett  haroldpashler  dougrohrer  howwelearn  paulkirschner  jeroenmerrienboer  scottlilienfeld  differentiation 
january 2015 by robertogreco

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