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About an experiment with learning styles

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Iversen
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 Message 1 of 17
02 March 2009 at 11:27am | IP Logged 
Link to a general discussion about learning styles
Wikipedia's article about learning styles
Wikipedia's article about cognitive styles
The old thread about learning styles

In my hometown (Århus in Denmark) the local school authorities have dedicated 7.1 mio Danish Crowns - almost 1 million euros - to a large scale project named "læringsstile" (learning styles). 10000 teachers are going to learn something about how to see the differences between pupils and act accordingly.

We have discussed the subject of learning styles in several threads, but the kind of method that the project will be trying out in practice is the one advocated by Rita and Kenneth Dunn, among others. The key words are the ones we have discussed here: some children are auditive learners, others need images, and others again need to move around. Some learn better with music, some without, some learn by themselves, others need a fair bit of attention. I have been reading some of the descriptions of her method and I see a lot of common sense. Good teachers have always been able to accommodate different pupils, bad teachers have tried to treat them all in the same way. I also noted that music loving pupils should wear earphones in order not to disturb those who can't stand noise, - again a good sign of common sense. All in all I find this method to be very positive and promising and I applaud entirely the decision of the school authorities to establish this project.

But some teachers are against (the one track minds, I presume), and some so called experts are also against. I read to my amazement in my local newspaper Jyllandsposten that a resident professor named Per Fibæk Laursen asserts (in Danish) that "In academical circles, where people are doing research in learning and teaching, there is not much respect for the method… Århus kommune could have got much more quality for the money, if it had spent it more widely on the training of teachers in how to do efficient teaching". So by training teachers in doing more efficient (!?) teaching you focus more widely? No, the alternative is to use teaching methods that focus on a wider variety of pupils, and this sometimes means LESS teacher interference. But this professor apparently can't imagine this possibility, and his focus is only on the training of teachers. The Union of the teachers with its traditional marxist leanings must be very happy with this professor.

Another alleged expert, Christian Dalsgaard, who makes postgraduate research in learning theory, has apparently researched the theory behind learning styles. Good, no problem with that. But then it is incomprehensible to me that he will put his name behind this nonsense: "Learning styles are based upon a 40 year old theory from USA about learning as a passive absorption of information, which was predominant during the 60s and 70s". Either the words "learning styles" has been used in their exactly opposite meaning by some neo-Skinnerian clan, or this researcher hasn't understood even the most basic things about differences in learning styles. The things he warns are against are those that were advocated by the behaviourist movement, which started in the beginning of the 1900s with Watson and later Skinner, and which through the military learning teaching programs became paradigmatic for much language learning.

But as anybody who reads the writings of and about Dunn and her group will know this has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with behaviourist thinking. The basic problem could be that the schools will be introduced to something that that hasn't been invented by the local gurus, but the result of the dire warnings of these "experts" could be that money earmarked to a method that promise to introduce a widened attention to differences between individual pupils will be channeled back into traditional 1968-infected research and teacher training. If you take into account that Danish school children have been falling severely behind in general knowledge and skills for years(in contrast to for instance Finnish children, according to the Pisa studies) then it might be more relevant to find some better experts.


Edited by Iversen on 02 March 2009 at 5:44pm

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Cainntear
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 Message 2 of 17
03 March 2009 at 1:30pm | IP Logged 
Iversen,

Is it so hard to believe that someone who disagrees with an unproven theory has a valid view?

Do you have to respond with loaded language like "Marxist", "infected" and "so called"?

Look, learning styles and multiple intelligence as a whole is, like most of educational psychology, a mixture or conjecture, intuition and observation -- there is no such thing as "hard science" in this field and there never can be.

The need for the notion of a "kinaesthetic learner" can be obviated using other theoretical frameworks. For example, there's a thread on here at the moment talking about findings that say that doodling and fidgeting assist learning in all learners. The "kinaesthetic learner" -- the kid that can't sit still -- is just a more obvious case of this. Learning styles too often means catering for observed extremes rather than focusing on nearer the centre, and from what you have written this would appear to be the biggest complaint about the Jutland scheme.

In fact, there are those who suggest that "learning styles" as realised today run counter to the proper interpretation of multiple intelligence theory: that a child must be engaged in using all the "intelligences" to develop properly. "Learning styles" doesn't support this, as the idea suggests playing to pupils' strengths rather than addressing their weaknesses. When a swimmer has a weak kick but strong arm-stroke, we don't declare that we is an "arm swimmer", and similarly a swimmer with a strong arm-stroke and weak kick is not declared a "leg swimmer".
The conclusion is that we should be teaching holistically, and that a holistic approach should suit all.

And here's another interpretation of learning styles:
Observed differences in learning styles differ between studies, so would appear to be related to the learning environment.
So maybe, just maybe, a learning "style" is a learnt or acquired strategy for dealing with inappropriately tuned input. ie a learning "style" is a way of learning from bad teaching. If the teacher taught well, we wouldn't have to engage in these coping strategies, so development of education according to learning styles is a dead end -- a false maximum in the search space of teaching methodology.
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Volte
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 Message 3 of 17
03 March 2009 at 2:18pm | IP Logged 
With all due respect, Cainntear, I'm going to have to say that learning styles are quite real. Throughout my pre-University education, it was not so rare for there to be activities for 'kinesthetic' learners (from playing with blocks to learn addition, to rotating pieces of paper in high school). There were also tests to determine which type of learner various students were, on scales from 0-10.

On one such test, in 7th grade, I remember having scored '10' for both visual and auditory, and '2' for kinesthetic, and frankly, it mirrors my experiences both before and after: I generally found kinesthetic approaches to subjects like math to be downright harmful and counterproductive for me, though many of my classmates seemed to benefit from them.

In the case of rotating paper in high school, it was to give an idea of the composition of rotations (and how changing the order doesn't lead to the same result in most cases); I could easily do it in my head, but constantly fumbled the paper and couldn't get a correct answer, while all of my classmates used the papers without problems. If my teacher had insisted I continue with the paper, all that would have resulted is that I would have been frustrated and not have acquired the mathematical idea that day. For what it's worth, the teacher in question is one of the few I've had that I'd consider a genuinely good teacher.

Similarly, when I doodled in class, my processing of the incoming information from the teacher tends to drop to almost zero. Fidgeting is almost as bad, for me.

I'm not a "holistic" learner; some things which benefit some other people are actively harmful to my learning. I don't think I'm unique in this.

Is this some weakness that has to be addressed, even at the cost of learning much less of things I care more about, like math? One can argue either way, but on the whole, I'm glad I wasn't forced to do more kinesthetic activities in subjects that don't absolutely require them. Swimming requires arm and leg use to be done well; mathematics does not: to insist on including kinesthetic requirements in math for all learners honestly strikes me as as backwards as requiring swimmers to do complicated mathematical operations while swimming - and to me, it would be even more disabling.

A side note: Iversen's use of loaded terms strikes me as justified, given Danish educational history.

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Iversen
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 Message 4 of 17
03 March 2009 at 2:36pm | IP Logged 
OK, I may have been unusually harsh about this theme. But it only was a theoretical discussion then I would not take is quite as seriously. I know that the the method of 2 x Dunn isn't the only one that deals with different learner profiles, and I am not an agent for their system.

My irritation with those that try to convert the money for this project into 'just more of the usual thing' is that the Danish school system has its good sides (democratic thinking, open communication etc), but it certainly also has had its dark sides, and the worst of these as been an ideologically motivated reluctance to accept differences among pupils, except those were negative (we have a large and growing number of pupils in special 'problem' classes). A former education minister Ritt Bjerregaard is quoted for the sentence "What not all can learn nobody should learn". And it would be misleading NOT to mention that this current in Danish pedagogical thinking became strong after 1968 and still has a political bias towards the left. If you blame me for using strong language, then you should blame those that are responsable for the current mess in even stronger terms.
     
Whether or not it gives most learning affect to stress the strong sides of the pupils or to force them to be allrounders is an open question. But the prevailing kind of education has been the one where you left it to the ingenuity of the teacher to leave small free spaces to pupils that had different ways of learning, but this wasn't made in a systematic fashion. The new project might open up for this - if the money is earmarked for this purpose. There won't be any effect of just spreading it evenly all over the place, which apparently is what the Danish Teachers' Union wants.

In sport you would normally expect the high performers to specialize in one discipline based on their abilities, so here you might indeed have "leg swimmers". But normal learning isn't an attempt to produce a few winners (and a lot of loosers). The goal should be to see which surroundings and which study methods function best for each and every pupil, and with all the differences I can see between between for instance the members of this forum I can't see any reason to believe that 'one size fits all' or even that any fixed selection of techniques fits all. As Volte writes, some techniques can even be downright harmful for certain pupils, and no holistic view can justify forcing a harmful technique upon somebody.


Edited by Iversen on 03 March 2009 at 2:56pm

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Fasulye
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 Message 5 of 17
03 March 2009 at 3:14pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:

In sport you would normally expect the high performers to specialize in one discipline based on their abilities, so here you might indeed have "leg swimmers". But normal learning isn't an attempt to produce a few winners (and a lot of loosers). The goal should be to see which surroundings and which study methods function best for each and every pupil, and with all the differences I can see between between for instance the members of this forum I can't see any reason to believe that 'one size fits all' or even that any fixed selection of techniques fits all. As Volte writes, some techniques can even be downright harmful for certain pupils, and no holistic view can justify forcing a harmful technique upon somebody.


Iversen, your initial post was too theoretically academic for me, but now your opinion is clear to me. So you want an introduction of more individualized learning techniques. I agree with you on that point. I have to keep my post short because I am at work now.

Fasulye-Babylonia

Edited by Fasulye on 03 March 2009 at 3:23pm

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Iversen
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 Message 6 of 17
03 March 2009 at 3:53pm | IP Logged 
I can be brief too: Yes, that's what I want
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icing_death
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 Message 7 of 17
03 March 2009 at 4:23pm | IP Logged 
Thanks for this thread Iversen. I'm a big believer in learning styles. I've seen people do better in certain styles than
others. Sometimes it's quite dramatic. Good teachers learn to be flexible to accommodate different styles. That's
better than trying to force everyone to learn the same way, IMO. It's good that somebody is going to do some
research.

Cainntear wrote:
The conclusion is that we should be teaching holistically, and that a holistic approach should
suit all.
I don't believe that book-learning can be equated to sports. If you tell us what you mean by
holistic approach without using analogies, Michel Thomas, and "that depends on what you mean by", I'll try really
hard to understand.
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Cainntear
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 Message 8 of 17
04 March 2009 at 2:38pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
In sport you would normally expect the high performers to specialize in one discipline based on their abilities, so here you might indeed have "leg swimmers". But normal learning isn't an attempt to produce a few winners (and a lot of loosers).

And that perhaps makes sport an even better example.

The old soviet style was identify potential sportsmen at a young age, train them hard, the ones that succeed go onto the world stage -- the ones that fail are discarded. It worked precisely because out of a large school population, only a minority of successes were needed.

Modern sports training (thankfully) doesn't revolve around totalitarian regimes with effectively limitless budgets, and this strategy just doesn't work. More and more sports trainers are recommending a delay in specialisation.

A young child gets an all-round sports training.
As a pubescent he focuses on a single area. (eg football or track-and-field)
As a teenager he choses a single discipline. (so in football it is only at this stage that he becomes a "striker" or a "goalkeeper", and in track-and-field here he decides whether to be a sprinter, a javelin thrower or a decathlete).

A lot of people come out of this system in a very different area than first might have been expected -- a lot of football prodigies end up in track-and-field sports, for example -- but the opportunity for a change of direction would have been lost if the child hadn't had the all-round training at the very beginning.

This pretty closely mirrors the increasing specialisation in the education system -- I made my first course choice at 13, and then narrowed my field of school study at 15, narrowing further at 16, and then at 17 I made the choice to specialise in computers at university. Then at 24 I decided to revert to some of the choices I pruned off at 16 and went back to learning languages. If I had been pigeon-holed earlier as a "computer person", I wouldn't be here (on this forum) now. I'd have been trapped in the singularly unrewarding world of computing.

So surely that same structure should be considered for learning styles?

My concern is: at what age are they going to start identifying and acting on learning styles? Are they going to pigeon-hole them at 6 years old, thus robbing them of the opportunity to develop alternative learning channels that may serve them better at a later date?

Quote:
The goal should be to see which surroundings and which study methods function best for each and every pupil, and with all the differences I can see between between for instance the members of this forum

But you've got to remember that we are mostly a fair bit older than the bulk of the school population -- are these differences so pronounced at that age?

icing_death wrote:
I don't believe that book-learning can be equated to sports.

How can anyone who professes to be a "big believer in learning styles" use the term "book-learning"? Surely that presupposes a single learning style: the book-learner?
icing_death wrote:
If you tell us what you mean by
holistic approach without using analogies, Michel Thomas, and "that depends on what you mean by", I'll try really
hard to understand.

That depends on what you mean by an analogy to Michel Thomas.

No, you'll be pleased to know that holistic learning, in the context of multiple intelligences and/or learning styles at least, has nothing to do with Michel Thomas.

Holistic learning would be about using all available channels to support and develop each other.

Take the example of teaching the word "orange" to a language class. Your teacher throws an orange to each of you and tells you it's called "an orange". The orange immediately registers with the visual channel (you see it) and the tactile channel (you feel it). If you peel it, you can hear it rip, you can smell it, you can put a piece in your mouth and taste it. Someone might even decide to throw it against a wall. There's a loud "squish" sound, and then you can see all the goo and gunk dripping out of it, and there's more of that orangey smell. All the while, the teacher is discussing "oranges", "peel" and "peeling", "segments", "juice" and "pith" with you.

Alternatively, you can specialise by learning style. The book learner gets sent into a quiet room to read about the words on his own. The kinaesthetic learner sits in a corner juggling. The auditory learner puts on a blindfold and listens to a tape. The collaborative learners sit in one small group and work together. And so on.

OK, that's an extreme example (at both ends), but I hope you can see the distinction I'm trying to make.


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