Train the Trainer: Are you a visual or a verbal learner?
January 28, 2012 3 Comments
Are you a visual or a verbal learner? Do you tout the fact that there are four learning styles – and your classes engage each one of them? Do you make power point slides and handouts in an attempt to “engage visual learners”? Do you think your lecture and discussion is ideal for “engaging auditory learners”? If so, you are not alone…but you are wrong! Now that I have your attention, here is the real title of this post: Four Learning Styles there are NOT! It is high time to get over this antiquated idea of education. (And, for the record, you do NOT remember 10% of what you hear, 20% of what you see…but more on that at a later date.) For more than 30 years, the notion that teaching methods should match a student’s particular learning style has exerted a powerful influence on education. The wide appeal of the idea that some students will learn better when material is presented visually and others will learn better when the material is presented verbally (or kinesthetically, or logically) is evident in the vast number of learning-style tests and teaching guides available, not to mention the reams of literature on the subject. Just google “learning styles” and see what happens. I got over 14 million results touting no less than 71 different “learning styles” – all in 1.3 seconds! This is not to say that people do not differ in learning abilities. A person with a high level of visual learning ability will be able to easily recall if an image was red or blue, and will have a high level of recall of people’s faces. A person with a high level of auditory learning ability will have an uncanny ability to differentiate between different pitches, levels of volume, and the unique sound of a voice. However, this does not imply higher levels of the construction of new knowledge, new meaning, new vocabulary, new concepts or new context based on the path of input. Modern scientific research simply does NOT support the existence of different learning styles, nor the hypothesis that people learn better when taught in a way that matches their own unique style. As a matter of fact, reams of literature have also been written on the subject that there are NOT four distinct learning styles. I got nearly as many google hits by using the terms “learning styles don’t exist” and “learning styles debunked” as I did on “learning styles” alone! If you don’t want to believe me (or google), perhaps you will believe a team of eminent researchers in learning psychology and their report published in December 2009 in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The report reviews the existing literature on learning styles and finds that although numerous studies have purported to show the existence of different kinds of learners such as “auditory learners” and “visual learners,” those studies have not used the type of randomized research designs that would make their findings credible. Or perhaps you will believe a Harvard Ph.D. Dr. Daniel T. Willingham, a cognitive scientist and author of Why Don’t Students Like School, recently posted a short video on youtube entitled “Learning Styles Don’t Exist.” I highly recommend it, and his book for that matter. Dang. So, if it is just not as simple as “learning styles”, what’s an educator to do? At the risk of oversimplification, I believe we should concentrate on what cognitive processes learners have in common rather than focusing on how they might be different. The latest research on learning, and something that has certainly changed the way I teach, is well reflected in something called “whole brain teaching.” Whole brain teaching recognizes that maximum learning occurs when a learning activity involves visual, verbal, and emotional elements combined with activities requiring critical thinking, movement and speech. Teaching in this way triggers action in the “whole brain”, in other words, six distinct regions of brain activity working in conjunction. And while we are at it, please forget the cliché that “we only use 10% of our brain capacity.” The truth is actually closer to “we only engage 10% of the brain at a time when using outdated teaching techniques.” Want to learn about whole brain teaching? Tune in next week! Props: Dr. Chris Biffle is the “guru” of Whole Brain Teaching. I have had the honor of attending and participating in many teaching conferences and web sessions with him, and consider him to be the unsung hero of American education.