Learning Styles / Multiple Intelligences / Left v Right Brain Learning

Learning Styles: Would you use a horoscope to decide the best way to educate your child? ''Why are learning styles so popular, given that the concept is built on somewhat dodgy experimental foundations? ...The answer is simple. Learning styles appeal on the same basis as astrology: the comfort of putting things in categories, of giving oneself a label, of being told who one is. Combine this with the implication that there is something vaguely scientific about it and the fact that it is easy to understand, and you have an irresistible package'' (Parkinson. Guardian Education.11 May 04)

The theory that we each have a unique and immutable learning style has been found to be empirically unfounded. Its popularity can be explained by the Forer effect (a.k.a. the Barnum effect after P. T. Barnum, who believed that a good circus had "a little something for everybody"). ''Psychologist B.R. Forer found that people tend to accept vague and general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves without realizing that the same description could be applied to just about anyone'' (SkepDic.com) Besides the Barnum effect, there are other reasons why people believe in learning styles. When charismatic and influential people promote an idea, people tend to trust them. There is also a tendency to support things in which one has invested time and money.

Frank Coffield, professor of education at London's institute of education, is doubtful about the vogue for pigeonholing students by learning style: ''Teachers are being told to identify and take account of pupils' individual "learning styles". Yet our research suggests labelling a pupil as, say, a "visual" learner may do them more harm than good. Moreover, as the tools used to split learners into different categories are so unreliable, most such labels seem to be of dubious value.'...One danger of an unthinking use of learning styles is that teachers view a student as being a certain type of learner incapable of learning via another mode; worse still, learners may end up with a limited view of themselves: so-called visual learners could refuse to read books; "auditory" learners be unwilling to watch films or look at paintings; "tactile" learners might insist on an object to touch before they can differentiate between "scepticism" and "cynicism", while "kinaesthetic" learners plead to be allowed to roll on the carpet so the penny drops. Claptrap!'' (TES 14/01/05 p28)

''Learning styles are cobblers'', says John White, emeritus professor of Philosophy of Education. ''There is no proof that children have such preferences. They are of use only in describing styles of input, not in terms of defining a child's hard-wired bias for one style over any other. Any suggestion otherwise is palatable only to those for whom the plural of anecdote is evidence'' http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/comment/story/0,,1885799,00.html

Wrongly Labelled. ''Practice should be informed by evidence, not by the unexamined hunches of some guru who's making a fortune from peddling poppycock.'' http://education.guardian.co.uk/egweekly/story/0,,1827622,00.html

Secondary teacher Jim Curran points out that where the teaching of reading is concerned, ''There is no research base for the idea that matching teaching to learning styles produces any noticeable benefit. In 1978, Tarver and Dawson reviewed 15 studies that matched visual learners to sight word approaches and auditory learners to phonics. Thirteen of the studies failed to find an effect, and the two that found an effect used unusual methodology. They concluded: “Modality preference has not been demonstrated to interact significantly with the method of teaching reading”. Kampwirth and Bates in 1980, found 24 studies that looked at this issue. Again, they concluded: “Matching children’s modality strengths to reading materials has not been found to be effective”. In 1987 , Kavale and Forness reviewed 39 studies. They found that matching children by reading styles had nearly no effect on achievement. They concluded. “Although the presumption of matching instructional strategies to individual modality preferences has great intuitive appeal, little empirical support for this proposition was found….. Neither modality testing nor modality teaching were shown to be effective”

''Excluding students identified as “visual/kinesthetic” learners from effective phonics instruction is a bad instructional practice—bad because it is not only not research based, it is actually contradicted by research''(Stanovich p30)

''Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded''. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/health/views/07mind.html?_r=2&ref=education

In the 'Independent review of the teaching of early reading', Sir Jim Rose wrote, ''The multi-sensory work showed that children generally bring to bear on the learning task as many of their senses as they can, rather than limit themselves to only one sensory pathway. This calls in to question the notion that children can be categorised by a single learning style, be it auditory, visual or kinaesthetic.'' (Rose 2006 para58)

Different strokes for different folks? A critique of learning styles.

Stop propagating the learning styles myth

Multiple Intelligences (MI): The MI theory was first put forward by Professor Howard Gardner in his book Frames of Mind. He suggested that every individual has eight or nine (he is still undecided about the existence of Spiritual Intelligence) intelligences (talents/skills), but in different degrees. As with learning styles, the research base is flawed. John Geake, professor of education at Oxford Brookes University and chair of the Oxford cognitive neuroscience and education forum ''is impatient with attempts to compartmentalise the brain. The theory of 'multiple intelligences' which is influencing some schools' teaching methods gets short shrift. ''Clearly you use the same sorts of brain processes in all subjects and areas at school. It doesn't make sense from a brain point of view to try to be that compartmentalised''. (Northen. TES. 03/09/04)

Professor John White is also unhappy about MI theory. He writes, ''The modish multiple intelligences bandwagon is run on flaky, flawed psychology..The idea that children come hard-wired with a whole array of abilities in varying strengths is appealing. But is there any reason to think the theory is true? At the root of MI theory is the same commitment to mental unfolding that fired the child-centred teachers of the 1960s...do we really want children to think that they are born with a talent for music or plaiting raffia or helping people, if there is no solid evidence in favour?'' (John White TES. 12/11/04)

The myth of Multiple Intelligences. John White

Left brain v right brain learning:
''For example, some texts encourage teachers to determine whether a child is left or right brained. It is true that some tasks can be associated with extra activity that is predominantly in one hemisphere or the other. For example, language is considered to be left lateralised. However, no part of the brain is ever normally inactive in the sense that no blood flow is occurring. Furthermore, performance in most everyday tasks, including learning tasks, requires both hemispheres to work together in a sophisticated parallel fashion. The division of people into left-brained and right-brained takes the misunderstanding one stage further. There is no reliable evidence that such categorisation is helpful for teaching and learning'' (link no longer available)

Willingham: Left/right brain theory is bunk.

Education and the brain.

Peter Medawar: 'the intensity of the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not'.