Thursday, January 26, 2017

It's Hard to Hear "Wrong"

John William Waterhouse's "Echo and Narcissus"
I love mythology.

Mythology gives us fun and exciting stories with huge characters you want to believe once roamed the earth.

But myths are not real.

Just like learning styles.

Yeah. That's right. I said it.

Learning styles are not a thing.
Even if you want them to be a thing, they are not a thing.

I'm sure you've heard about learning styles.

Maybe you even took a test that felt very "test-like" and made you feel confident telling people something like this:
"Oh, I am a kinesthetic learner; I need to be moving to learn effectively."

The person who gave you that test probably believed in learning styles. A lot of people do. It's a very popular idea. But to be clear, learning styles are not a thing.

Learning Styles emerged from a theory that had not been researched. The idea sounded great, and a lot of people decided to believe it before doing the research.

The good news is that other people went and did the research. Here's what they found:
The overwhelming majority of the literature concludes the same thing: there is no proven benefit to matching a teacher’s instruction to a learner’s preferred style.
So, a lot of people are wrong - a lot of smart people.
And I want them to stop being wrong.

I want to stop reading about learning styles in papers from strong students.
I want to stop hearing intelligent parents tell me about the learning styles of their children.
I want to stop knowing that this myth is behind lesson plans being used in my kids' schools.

I want to stop all this, but I also don't want to be a jerk.

Telling people they are wrong about something they believe makes you look like a jerk - especially when that 'something' makes them feel informed.

People look back on all the times they used that flawed knowledge, all the times they mentioned it in passing, all the times they relied on that incorrect information to make a decision. Suddenly they feel foolish, and you are the reason they feel foolish.

You may think you're doing people a favor, but it sure doesn't feel that way for the person you're "helping."

It was easy for me to accept learning styles aren't a thing because of the way I heard the news.
I had used the phrase in a paper I was working on, but I wasn't referring to the concept that's been debunked. One of my advisors pointed it out and told me to get it out of my manuscript. He knew I didn't mean to invoke the popular concept, but he explained that the phrase was a red flag in education research. He told me it is pseudo-science, like astrology.

I got the message and pulled the phrase out. That was easy, but I was not invested in the idea.

It's a different story for people who learned the concept from a respected teacher, an authority, or a good read. These people are going to resist, and I get it.

I want to take something from them. They had this knowledge, and it was useful.

Here comes some jerk who has proof that the thing they valued is actually worthless.

So, you have to acknowledge some kind of worth.

It is a good idea to vary teaching methods so that students experience learning in more than one way. So, a lot of the teaching techniques that were prompted by the idea of "learning styles" are helping students.

Show people why it was okay to believe what they did.
That makes letting go of flawed knowledge easier.

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