Evidence-Based Training: Debunking the Myth of Learning Styles

In “Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals,” Ruth Clark (2010) states that one of the biggest myths perpetuated by training professionals is accommodating different learning styles.

“The learning style myth leads to some very unproductive training approaches that are counter to modern evidence of what works…The time and energy spent perpetuating the various learning style myths can be more wisely invested in supporting individual differences that are proven to make a difference—namely, prior knowledge of the learner.” (Clark, 2010, p. 10)

In her book, Dr. Clark cites a research study (by Kratzig and Arbuthnott) conducted with college students about learning styles. A group of college students were asked to do 3 things: (1) Rate their own learning style as visual, auditory, or kinesthetic; (2) Each student took a learning style test that puts them into the visual, auditory, or kinesthetic category; and (3) Each student was administered three tests to measure visual, auditory, or kinesthetic memory.

If the idea about learning style were true, we would expect someone who considers himself a visual learner to score higher on the visual part of the learning style test and have better visual recall.

“However, when all of the measures were compared, there were absolutely no relationships! A person who rated themselves an auditory learner was just as likely to score higher on the kinesthetic scale of the learning style test and show best memory for visual data. The research team concluded that ‘in contrast to learning style theory, it appears that people are able to learn effectively using all three sensory modalities’ (Kratzig & Arbuthnott 2006, 241)” (Clark, 2010, p.11).

Another example she provides is in explaining how something works. We normally think that a video or animated cartoon would be the best way to show how something works, but Dr. Clark says we would be wrong. Instead, according Dr. Clark, evidence shows that “when teaching how things work, a series of still visuals can be as good as or better than animations for learning (Ketter, 2010, p. 56).

Dr. Clark explains that the reason for this is because animation overloads our brains because there’s just too much visual information for us to process. “[But] a series of still visuals…can be reviewed and revisited at the learner’s preferred pace” (Ketter, 2010, p. 56).

Fad or Fact: Individuals with visual learning styles learn best from lessons with graphics.

FAD. There is no evidence for the prevalent myth of learning styles such as visual learners and auditory learners. Perpetuating this myth detracts resources from more productive proven training methods.

Source: “Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals” (Clark, 2010, p. 22)

Wow! I love solid evidence to dispel the misconceptions we sometimes hold onto. As a trainer, I’m thankful for Dr. Clark’s evidence-based research.

References

Clark, R.C. (2010). Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Ketter, P. (2010). Evidence-Based Training Methods: Toward a Professional Level of Practice. T+D, 64(4), 54-58.

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