Learning Styles Awareness: Less About Styles, More About Design – Part 1

“Learning Styles” has been a popular topic of discussion over the past few weeks in the e-Learning community after David Kelly’s proposition for “Learning Styles Awareness Day” on March 1. This sparked many blog posts and Tweets regarding whether or not learning styles even exist and whether or not to specifically create content for those with different styles of learning (visual, audial, kinesthetic).
In a blog post in response to his own proposition, David Kelly claims, “there’s no evidence that adapting design to learning styles results in more learning.” Many others agree, stating that no research findings link a better performance based on a particular learning style.
Eisel IconFocus on an Effective Design, Not Learner Style
However, this really isn’t the point. The point is less about the learning styles and more about how to design learning material that actually aids both the learner and greatly supports the training itself. What is important is providing the best tools for learners – regardless of their “learning style.” These tools can be in the form of multimedia, assessments, a particular navigation of the course, opportunities for social interaction and more.
The use of different learning aids is beneficial for learners whether they claim to be a “visual” learner, an “audial” learner or anything else. To provide an audio recording for further explanation of a topic or a video to demonstrate a technical process will benefit anyone in need of that information. According to Clark Quinn, he claims, “Yes, mix types of media and experiences to match learning tasks and maintain motivation, but not for ‘styles,’” in his Learnlets blog post regarding learning styles.
Pen IconDesign a Dynamic Course to Motivate & Engage
Many times, a learner’s exploration or use of different media and components in a training course depends on that learner’s level of experience, prior knowledge and/or desire. According to Sigmund Tobias (in a great blog by Guy Wallace), a number of reviews of ATI research indicates, “Students with higher levels of prior knowledge, or higher ability, are optimally instructed with lower levels of instructional support.” In the case of providing an audio recording of the steps to demonstrate a technical process – if those steps are critical to completing an employee’s job, they will most likely listen and they will most likely learn. If they do not, it is more attributed to their interest or motivation, rather than to a learning style.
That said, designers can incorporate different types of media and different types of resources to cater to all levels of experience or interest and construct the course in a way that allows for the learner to navigate in a way that best promotes their desired experience. Rather than designing a course that caters to particular learning styles, think of a learner completing a course based on their experience, motivations and goals; This opens up space for a new approach and new design.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we explore three instructional design models that open up possibilities for all the interactivity necessary to engage learners!