[Part of the Learning Processes Series by Marilynn Force ©, Regis University affiliate faculty member.] This article is dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives on 9/11 and specifically to all the survivors and what they have endured.
September is a month of great sorrow but immense gratitude as well. We remember and honor those who have fallen, but we must also acknowledge and honor all of those who have survived living with the impact of such a cataclysmic attack.
Why are we correlating a catastrophic event with learning styles?
On August 29 2011 NPR ran a story, “Think You’re An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely,” which focused on a 2009 study that stated the examination of a student’s learning style was unnecessary, and the conclusion of the study’s author was that, “Given the lack of scientific evidence, the authors argue that the currently widespread use of learning-style tests and teaching tools is a wasteful use of limited educational resources.”
The study: “Learning Styles, Concepts and Evidence,” conducted by Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer and Bjork (2009) states, “our search of the learning-styles literature has revealed only a few fragmentary and unconvincing pieces of evidence that meet this standard, and we therefore conclude that the literature fails to provide adequate support for apply in learning-style assessments in school settings.”
My response to the authors Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer and Bjork…Did you look outside your sample?
One of many questions I have for the study’s authors is…have you ever taught a member of the military, first responder or a person, as Kinchin (2007) defines as a, “person who had been exposed to an event which may be outside the range of normal human experience: an event which would markedly distress almost anyone?” This changes, as Pear (2001) describes, the phylogeny and ontogeny of a person, which includes learning style, who you know has sufficient intelligence to do the work but for some reason, could not complete the exercise in either a linguistic, visual or auditory response.
I find this study flawed in so many ways. The first flaw is that it is approached as psychologists, not as educators. Next, the study does not explain to the reader what control group was used to approach their findings. Did they use K-12, traditional college students or adult learners…it is not clear. As psychologists, are you familiar with the quantitative Yerkes-Dodson study of 1908 on how anxiety affects subjects in a learning environment?
In their article the authors reported, “nearly all of the studies that purport to provide evidence for learning styles fail to satisfy key criteria for scientific validity.” To which validity criteria are you referring to? There are many.
“The authors found that of the very large number of studies claiming to support the learning-styles hypothesis, very few used this type of research design. Of those that did, some provided evidence flatly contradictory to this meshing hypothesis, and the few findings in line with the meshing idea did not assess popular learning-style schemes.” Is this your bias or an objective analysis of a large population group?
What method of scientific study was used? Were you using a qualitative design to develop grounded theory so emerging patterns could be defined? Anyone doing basic research knows that what you are examining and trying to define… is what is not known.
Did you know that out of a population of 306 million people in the United States that 20 million have been diagnosed with some type of anxiety disorder, and seven million specifically have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (NIMH, 2009)? Those are only the diagnosed numbers. Wilson (2008) stated in a study of incoming military members that two-thirds of the service members do not self-identify for the fear of stigma in the educational and public environment that they cannot function in a “normal” society. Maybe the bias of your study confirms their fear and keeps students from realizing their full potential.
Have you ever seen the TED conference speech posted February 2010 by Temple Grandin, Ph.D. at Colorado State University, or read her book, “Thinking in Pictures, My Life with Autism” (1995). Once she figured out that she was a dominant “picture thinker” she could then respond to the linguistic world to become the “scientist” she is now. Oh wait…the TED talk was done a year after you published your article, but her book was out in 1995?
Are you totally discounting the work of Dr. Oliver Sacks (2010), a medical physician, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, and one who has penned numerous books on the brain and learning?
Have you not read Dr. Bruce Lipton’s book the “Biology of Belief” (2005) where he chronicles the development of biology student’s change in learning patterns? Or Dr. Candace Pert’s (1997) work “The Molecules of Emotion” on the affects emotion has on learning patterns and how those patterns can be changed in the brain?
Then there is Dr. Jeanne Higbee who developed, with a number of scholars, the PASS IT Program that is now an integral part of the education department at the University of Minnesota, creating inclusive instructional designs.
In 2009, the same year your study was published, Dr. Karen Myers of Saint Louis University published an article, “A New Vision for Disability Education: Moving on from the Add-On (2009).” In this article she addresses “inclusive” classrooms and an instructional design called the Universal Instructional Design Methodology (UID). Are you familiar with UID?
In your work you state that learning styles are really nothing that can be measured so it is not a real issue. But in Dr. Myers work she states that, “minor actions can eliminate exclusion and are at the heart of a new vision for disability education that eschews the limitations framework and makes way for learning opportunities for all students” (p. 17). Dr. Myers goes on to state that “the attitudes of people without disabilities have created the structures, relationships, and institutions that marginalize and exclude persons with disabilities and shape the meaning of disability” (p. 18). Given that this focuses on persons with disabilities can you not also apply it to those with different learning styles who struggle within the classroom environment to achieve the goals set out for them?
For a baseline of everything I do in approaching the classroom, I fall back on two theorists: Pear (2001), who defines learning as “a dependency of current behavior on the environment as a function of prior interaction between sensory-motor activity and the environment” (P. 12) and St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits who stated that all impediments in the classroom be removed so learning could occur (Kolvenbach, 2005).
Are not learning processes that are misunderstood barriers and impediments to learning? How can you help a student if you do not understand how they learn?
Since 2006 I have administered the Brookhaven Sensory Modality Preference Inventory survey to every student in every class I have taught either online or land based. Learning style modality has consistently proven to be over 50% visual, 30+% kinesthetic and 2% auditory. Knowing the students learning style, particularly if they are a dominant auditory/kinesthetic learner trying to survive in an online environment. It has been essential for a successful interaction between my students and me, especially if they experience anxiety.
Education is hard enough for both instructor and learner without something being presented as fact not discounting the bias behind it. We all need to peek out of our selective silos of disciplines and seek deeper knowledge in how to communicate with each other. I do not doubt your ability as researchers and scholars…that is not in question here; I do doubt your ability to separate your bias from your research.
Brookhaven Sensory Modality Preference inventory, http://www.brookhavencollege.edu/learningstyle/modality_test.aspx.
Grandin, T. (1993), Thinking in pictures: My life with autism. New York, NY: Random House.
Higbee, J. (2011), Pedagogy and Student Services for Institutional Transformation (PASS IT) program, http://www.cehd.umn.edu/passit/.
Kolvenbach, P.H. (2005). Jesuit education and Ignatian pedagogy, Jesuit distance education network. Retrieved from http://ajcunet.edu/distanceeducation.aspx?bid.
Kuchin, D. (2007). A guide to psychological debriefing: Managing emotional decompression and post-traumatic stress disorder. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley.
Lipton, B. (2005). The biology of belief: Unleashing the power of consciousness, matter, and miracles. Santa Rosa, CA: Mountain of Love/Elite Books.
Myers, K. A. (2009). A new vision for Disability Education: Moving on from the Add-On. About Campus, 14(5), 15-21.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2009). The numbers count: Mental disorders in America. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml #PTSD.
Pear, J.J. (2001) The science of learning. Philadelphia, PA: Taylor & Francis.
Pert, C. B. (1997). Molecules of emotion: The science behind mind-body medicine. New York, NY: Scribner.
Sacks, O. (2010) The mind’s eye. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
Wilson, W. (2008). Joining force America: Community support for returning service members. Minneapolis, MN: Capella University.
Yerkes, R.M., &Dodson, J.D. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18(1), 459-482.
[Part of the Learning Processes Series by Marilynn Force ©, Regis University affiliate faculty member. This Learning Process Series’ aim is to address learning issues that students and instructors may face while participating and interacting in the higher education journey.]
Marilynn Force is an affiliate faculty member who has been teaching for a total of 22 years, 15 of which have been spent at Regis University focusing on finance and accounting within the School of Management. She has also taught for Metro State College and Webster University. Ms. Force’s career has focused on all aspects of small business development, entrepreneurship, management, communication and the creation of effective learning processes and anxiety cessation within the academic and business environment so critical thinking can occur. She is currently an ABD Doctoral Researcher working on the completion of her PhD in Education.