One of the good folks on Reddit brought some issues to my attention. Although I hinted at it in the article proper, I was conflating a technical definition of “learning” with the way the word “learning” is being used in the phrase “learning styles.” Learning styles don’t actually facilitate learning; at least, not directly. Learning styles should only be thought of as preferred modes of processing information. I decided to make this a separate post rather than make the already long learning styles post even longer. Below, I reproduce my interaction with this Redditor, including the quotations that I am interacting with.
Learning occurs in the cognitive domain: People learn by “doing”, and learning occurs by making connections between new and old information. The instructional approach should match what’s being taught.
Yes, I agree. Learning modalities were pretty de-emphasized in my coursework in comparison to the way laypeople speak of them. In some place, they were outright disregarded, which is why I noted towards the beginning of the article that motivation can override any preferences for how you take in information. And that your preferences change from environment to environment. Toward the end of the article, I wrote that no matter how you prefer to take in information, (1) you need elements of most of the modalities anyway, and (2) you HAVE to physically practice. Your “learning style” is actually just the way you prefer to take in information, and information only lets you have access to the learning process — it doesn’t cause it. Likewise, learning the visual and verbal details of a technique only lets you have access to preliminary information on how to perform a technique. The real learning is the physical practice, and, in my thinking, more properly in the context of application.
For the author’s example of math: All students learn math best by being given instructions, then practicing solving problems. His example of some students learning math through “songs” is just silly. The only application I can think of where songs, rhyming, or poems might help is memorizing formulas or theories, but memorizing something is not the same as application. (Ie. memorizing a formula isn’t the same as knowing how to use it.)
True, which is why I made this article long — I have no interest in exploring or adding on this concept because instructional design is so much more important. I think the learning styles idea takes liberty with the word “learning” by conflating “learning” with “consuming and memorizing information.” And it is my fault that I did not consider this equivocal use of the word learning. (In my defense, the article is very long and potentially just an exercise in information overload.)
I think even if learning styles have a tenuous relationship with actual learning, it is still true that we have preferences for how we consume or memorize information. But that is just memorizing facts, as you said. That is more in line with study skills than learning. Learning requires you to understand and apply those facts — totally agreed. Thank you for pointing this out. I will add an appendix to the article noting these points, and make clear some of the caveats I did not include in the article.
That said, my mathematics illustration was a bit sloppy. I was taking liberties with the word “learn,” but what I’m really talking about is the way you prefer to consume information for the purpose of learning. I prefer almost invariably to read instructions; but several classmates of mine prefer to be told. But like I noted later in the article, these modal preferences cannot be thought of in isolation from one another. For verbal math instructions, there still have to be written or drawn illustrations. And for martial arts, there always has to be visual, verbal, and kinesthetic (doing) element to accessing and learning a new technique.
nobody can learn a technique just by being told. They also can’t learn by just by watching. It’s a combination of auditory, visual, and physical. But the most important part is the physical practice.
Absolutely, dude. Recall that I said this outright in the article. I also noted that every learning style actually involved elements of other styles, and that they cannot be thought of as existing in isolation from each other.
When taught a new technique, I know in my head how to do it, but until I practice over and over to develop the “muscle memory”, I haven’t really learned it. And this holds true for all students.
I would say that just as you cannot consider memorizing facts to be learning without the ability to accurately apply and relate those facts, so also it is with learning a technique vs being able to apply it in a specific context (for me, everything is oriented toward sparring). This isn’t a perfect analogy, but I would liken your isolated ability to perform a movement pattern more to the memorization of facts, and your ability to apply that movement pattern appropriately (in this case, sparring) would be the actual learning.
In my thinking, to say “I have learned a side kick” without an ability to apply it is not technically learning. “Learned” here is just using the word in a colloquial way, as in, “I have memorized this information,” or “I am aware of this now.” Essentially, the equivocal way I was using it in the article. Again, in some respect, you have technically learned something (which is why my analogy is not perfect); but insofar as martial arts is not dance (we don’t just kick in isolation: there’s an opponent involved), I cannot think of learning a side kick and learning to apply that side kick in total isolation from each other. So it is difficult for me to say you have truly learned the side kick if you have not also gained some competence in applying it to sparring.
So, all that said, why did I write about learning styles? I think even though it cannot be said that learning styles directly facilitate actual, technical learning, it is important to know that people prefer to consume information in certain ways. It is NOT true they can’t consume information other ways; but knowing someone is more auditory than visual (in the context of motor learning, of course) can inform the way you use coaching cues and which cues that you use.
This article is also going to serve as the backdrop of a series of articles on adaptive or special needs learning. Learners without exceptionalities just need good instructional design; the modalities involved don’t have to be especially tailored for them to be able to learn so long as they want to learn. However, with students with exceptional conditions, they sometimes do not respond to information that comes through certain senses. Again, we’re not directly talking about learning, but if we remove the nomenclature “learning styles” and think of the concept purely as preferred modes of consuming information, it can be important for instructors to be aware of.