Don’t throw Learning Styles out with the cosmo quiz app

By | August 5, 2013

I quickly drew this up in response to the conversation going on over at Hapgood about Learning Styles vs Introversion.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Giulia Forsythe

In my work, I frequently ask faculty to consider accessibility and diversity of learning approaches (minus the smug vacuous assertions and arched eyebrow, I hope).

I certainly don’t think you can take some little questionnaire, like a cross between a horoscope and a Cosmo quiz, then suddenly declare, “I’m a Virgo visual learner drawn to drama!“. I also don’t think all professors must provide a visually rich presentation for my learning style-star sign-hairdo preference.

I realize the notion of learning style is controversial and its scientific validity is questionable. The problem resides that in our attempts at sense-making we tend to reduce everything to bite-size blips, thereby reducing complexity and simplifying the essence of something into pure nonsense. The same thing happens to Bloom’s Taxonomy but that does not mean we should dismiss the notion of higher order thinking or learning styles altogether.

By the time you are in a position to teach, especially in higher education, you have already mastered what is required to be a successful learner. Historically, there has a strong preference towards written, text-based modes of presentation and assessment. Learning is inherently a social process and as teachers, we tend to replicate our own experiences. This means that faculty and grad students responsible for learning in higher education, who have been socialized into their profession will also show preference for lecture-based learning scenarios and assessment mostly based in writing assignments. Countless course syllabi consist of 2 essays, 2 midterms and a final exam. The dominant xMOOC template replicates this as well, with the auto-grading killer app removing the prof altogether.

We do need to consider learning styles and accessibility in our learning. In Ontario, it’s the law to ensure accessibility for all. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilites Act is couched in a human right that everyone has the equitable right to communicate as an individual.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Giulia Forsythe

The Centre for Applied Special Technologies has championed universal design for learning which asks us to consider multiple modes of representation, expression, and engagement. This is more complex than a reduction to a learning style because learning doesn’t fit neatly into tight little categories, but keeping Kolb’s cycle in mind, you can design your learning with multiple entry points and multiple ways of showcasing your knowledge.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Giulia Forsythe

3 thoughts on “Don’t throw Learning Styles out with the cosmo quiz app

  1. Mike Caulfield (@holden)

    Thanks Giulia — I often speak in a shorthand about learning styles that doesn’t always capture the complexity of the issue (witness the amazingly convoluted sentence at my blog in that post). I believe, in fact, that my position on the subject is somewhat closer to Kolb’s, who I seem to remember saying at one point that of course reading literature was going to require one set of preference-independent skills and doing math another. And that’s largely the rub — the impact of those authentic barriers tends to outweigh the impact of our arbitrary ones.

    That doesn’t mean that we should not address the arbitrary barriers, but that the way in which this has been presented and implemented has been just this side of astrology in many cases. The focus on “styles” trivializes deeper issues that students are having engaging with the course.

    I agree that what we really need when we look at both accessibility and these issues of introversion and “styles” is a universal design approach. And the issue becomes how we accommodate multiple routes to participation while both incorporating smart design based on research and while preventing the complete fracturing of the educational community we are attempting to build around a common experience.

    Online approaches, from the earliest Usenet groups to the latest cMOOC or ds106 experience, have some lessons for us there. And, admittedly, display some blind spots as well. I didn’t post my massive post on what universal access looks like on the intro/extro-version spectrum, but the upshot is that if you imagine a workplace that values the work of both introverts and extroverts that you can work back pretty directly to a model for teaching. Perhaps this is my next post? (Or perhaps this comment is long enough I should just post this?).

  2. Giulia Forsythe Post author

    Your comments may as well be posts not for their length but for their thoughtfulness. You hit the nail on the head with the Kolb sentiment, which is what I was trying to get at, that even one person within a particular instance or subject can vary greatly. I would like to see more examples of universal design that accommodates for learning diversity including introversion. I feel like technology does that in some ways, although I am often as squeamish hitting publish than I am debating in person, depending on the topic.
    I look forward to reading your massive post, when you feel ready to hit publish.

  3. Pingback: Learning Styles vs. Introversion | Hapgood

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