Learning styles: Good or Bad? Bad

Before anyone gets all worked about learning styles because they love them, remember, I love to pay devils advocate and question every single thing:) And I like to see hard quantitative data from solid studies that show an improvement in achievement or I get skeptical. I wrote a post on learning styles a while ago about how I felt they really do not make much sense from a teaching or curriculum development perspective as there are much more important things to consider. That post can be read here. I feel this way because they do not make sense when I consider other theories that do have tons and tons of experimental data to back them up. So I do question the importance of learning styles in curriculum design.

Anyway, I was discussing learning styles with my students this week and many of them seem surprised that I am not ‘all about’ learning styles and in fact do not find them very useful in my instruction. So I thought I would provide research that helps back up my point. I will be posting some peer reviewed research, sharing some opinions, and showing some websites that have all come to the same conclusions. Now before I do this, I believe learning preferences are fine and if they help with motivation for a particular kid or group, thats awesome. I also believe that motivation from that preference could improve learner achievement. Having said that, I recommend teachers teach to all learning styles and avoid focusing on just one of them. Instead I recommend that teachers focus on the way people learn through multiple representations (please see my blog post above to hear about this). Also, one thing all of these article discuss is that there is a lot of money in learning styles. The tests make money. So I wonder if that has a part in their popularity? Well look at the research and make your own conclusions. I will admit that I am only posting contradictory research here although the first meta analysis is not intended to be contradictory, it just happens that is what they found.

Here is one of the latest works that analyzed the 13 most popular learning style inventories:

Coffield, F, Moseley, D, Hall, E & Ecclestone, K 2004, Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: a systematic and critical review, LSRC reference, Learning & Skills Research Centre, London.

The part of this study that I found most interesting in addition to their conclusion that there is not clear research that learning style improve achievement was this table of learning style tests:

Thats pretty scary. How could you create a test without these types of validity evidences? I may be using these tests as an example of what not to do in my assessment class this summer:)

Here is a just a few other studies:

This study found that learners had a learning preference but that the preference did not affect achievement

Here is a blog post from Cathy Moore who is reviewing learning styles. Specifically she is examining:

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., and Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3):105-119.

Who found that:

Studies are weak: “Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis.” “Meshing” refers to changing your teaching style to match a learning style. (p. 105)
Don’t spend time on something that isn’t proven: “We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base.” (p. 105)

Here is an article from the Chronicle about learning styles. The main point I took from this article is Kolb’s analysis. Kolb is probably the most well known learning styles theorist: “…Mr. Kolb also says that the paper’s bottom line is probably correct: There is no strong evidence that teachers should tailor their instruction to their students’ particular learning styles. (Mr. Kolb has argued for many years that college students are better off if they choose a major that fits their learning style. But his advice to teachers is that they should lead their classes through a full “learning cycle,” without regard to their students’ particular styles.)”

Here is another article from change magazine

And finally I leave you with a video from a cognitive psychologist arguing that learning styles do not exist. And before you see his video I suggest you look at his bio/cv. He is a professor at UVA and here is his bio:

“Daniel Willingham earned his B.A. from Duke University in 1983 and his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Harvard University in 1990. He is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. Until about 2000, his research focused solely on the brain basis of learning and memory. Today, all of his research concerns the application of cognitive psychology to K-12 education. He writes the “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” column for American Educator magazine, and is an Associate Editor of Mind, Brain, and Education. He is also the author of Why Don’t Students Like School? (Jossey-Bass) and When Can You Trust the Experts? (Jossey-Bass). His writing on education has been translated into ten languages.” There is more info about him at this website here

A systematic literature review of empirical evidence on computer games and serious games

A very good article in Computers and Education which analyzes the empirical evidence from the gaming and learning literature:

Connolly, T., M., Boyle, E., A., MacArthur, E., Hainey, T., & Boyle, J., M. (2012). A systematic literature review of empirical evidence on computer games and serious games. Computers and Education, 59(2), 661-686


This paper examines the literature on computer games and serious games in regard to the potential positive impacts of gaming on users aged 14 years or above, especially with respect to learning, skill enhancement and engagement. Search terms identified 129 papers reporting empirical evidence about the impacts and outcomes of computer games and serious games with respect to learning and engagement and a multidimensional approach to categorizing games was developed. The findings revealed that playing computer games is linked to a range of perceptual, cognitive, behavioural, affective and motivational impacts and outcomes. The most frequently occurring outcomes and impacts were knowledge acquisition/content understanding and affective and motivational outcomes. The range of indicators and measures used in the included papers are discussed, together with methodological limitations and recommendations for further work in this area.

edX: Harvard and MIT offer courses online for anyone

Harvard and MIT have teamed up to offer courses online for anyone: http://www.edxonline.org. At this point, they have not stated what courses will be offered. It seems like they are in the very beginning stages of this project.

Details appear to be limited as to how this will really operate. Here is information about the technology used to deliver the courses:

“An open-source online learning platform that will feature teaching designed specifically for the web. Features will include: self-paced learning, online discussion groups, wiki-based collaborative learning, assessment of learning as a student progresses through a course, and online laboratories.”

Now here is one thing I found very interesting:

“The platform will also serve as a laboratory from which data will be gathered to better understand how students learn.”

Essentially what this means: If you sign up and participate in these courses your data CAN be used for research. I assume MIT and Harvard got a grant to develop this and conduct research on it, however, that is not stated from what I saw.

Now here is the most interesting thing in regards to getting credit for taking these courses:

“EdX will be available to anyone in the world with an internet connection, and in general, there will not be an admissions process. For a modest fee, and as determined by the edX board, MIT and Harvard, credentials will be granted only to students who earn them by demonstrating mastery of the material of a subject.

As determined by the edX board, MIT and Harvard, online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects could earn a certificate of completion, but such certificates would not be issued under the name Harvard or MIT.”

Does that mean the courses are free or will there be a charge? It seems there definitely will be a charge to get the certificate which will not be associated with MIT or Harvard. So I guess the question is, why take these for this certificate? How much will the fee be? What is the value of this certificate (i.e., will anyone recognize it and for what subjects). These questions should seriously be considered by anyone before taking these courses. Even if the courses are offered for free there is still a free for proof that you took it which essentially means these courses are not free.


Self Regulated Learning: Self Explanations

Self Regulated Learning: Self-Explanations

When presented with MERs, learners do not automatically retain information, they must actively organize and process it in order to be able to use it for later use (Kozma, 1994). Therefore, learners should have good metacognitive skills in order to be able to effectively learn from multimedia. Chi et al. (1989) suggest that good students solve problems well due to the way they studied the instruction or examples presented to them. This is inline with Perels, Gurtler, and Schmitz (2005) who found that teaching learners self-regulation strategies improves their problem solving ability and Schoenfeld and Herrmann (1982) who found that novices problem solving abilities can be improved to almost that of experts. Based on these conclusions, there is clearly a difference in the way that learners of different prior knowledge levels use representations. Learners with high prior knowledge, experts, can solve problems and form concepts because they have a better understanding of the material and therefore know how to make the appropriate connections. Low level learners do not have that understanding and therefore its important to figure out how these metacognitive strategies are used by both experts and novices to construct information. The current study intends to focus on one of these such strategies, self-explanations, which has been shown to help learners construct, understand, and retain information.

Current studies have shown that using self-explanations (Bereiter & Bird, 1985; Ainsworth & Burcham, 2007; Renkl, 1997) and multiple external representations (Carney & Levin, 2002) can help novice learners retain information. The use of self-explanations as a learning strategy has been shown to increase comprehension by creating a deeper understanding of the content (chi et al., 1994). Self-explanations, which are often times referred to as think alouds, are self-generated explanations that learners speak or think aloud while they are learning new material (Chi & VanLehn, 1991; Pressley et al., 1992). Research on self-explanations has shown that when used in a multimedia environment with MERs, learning and comprehension are increased. For example, Ainsworth and Loizou (2003) sought to discover the role self-explanations had on comprehension by presenting participants with either diagrams or text and having them think aloud as they were reviewing it. It was discovered that participants in the diagram treatments scored significantly better on tests measuring inference, created more self explanations, and spent less time studying the content. Participants who generated the most self-explanations were found to score significantly higher suggesting that the more students think aloud, the greater their comprehension. Similar results were uncovered by Aleven and Koedinger (2002) who sought to discover if self-explanations would lead to greater comprehension and problem solving ability. 41 high school students were placed into either an explanation (solve problems with think alouds) or problem solving (solve problems with no think alouds) treatment and were given a computer based instructional tutor. Students scored significantly higher on problem solving and comprehension measures in the self-explanation treatment. As a result of these studies, there is a clear advantage to using think alouds in learning and a benefit to using them in multimedia instruction. Roy & Chi (2005) have concluded that this happens “Because there is more information to explain in multimedia materials compared to single media (i.e., there are within and between media relationships to be discovered), a constructive activity such as self-explaining might be especially suited to learning from resources such as text and illustrations.” (p. 277).

eBook: How to self publish

As part of one of my courses this semester, I had my students divide into groups to write book chapters for a book on how to teach online. The book will then be published online for free. So in this effort, I have been analyzing different methods to publish online and thought I would put my findings here for others to use:

Apple’s iBooks Author – http://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/

-Free to use
– Slow publishing times – account and such need to be approved by Apple. Apple can reject your book.
– If you charge for your text, Apple owns the rights (they take 30% of profit). If you offer for free, you can still publish elsewhere because there is not ISBN. But the good thing is that you can distribute for free!
– iBooks only work on Apple devices so those with PC, Kindles, or other eReaders are out of luck.

Amazon Self Publishing: Createspace

– Free
– You own copyright
– Cannot distribute for free. Must charge at least 2.15 per book. If in Kindle, must charge based on file size. Minimum charge is $0.99.
– Amazon provides free ISBN through createspace

SourceFabric – http://www.sourcefabric.org

– Free to publish and host – you host on your own server
– Can distribute anywhere


Harvard pushing open access journals

Harvard is pushing its faculty to publish in open access journals due the high prices that journals charge. Here is the article: http://www.engadget.com/2012/04/25/harvard-overpaying-for-research-wants-open-access/

I have recently been thinking about this concept: I spend a lot of time writing an article, months of revision, and finally get it published only to find that my school needs to pay a significant amount of money to access the article. Not only that, but I am paid nothing and lose rights to it. Additionally, this journal will probably ask me to help peer review their articles, again paying me nothing. This makes no sense. Either the schools or professors need to be paid for this work and should not be charge outrageous amounts of money for journal access since all of the leg work was done for free by faculty. So open access makes sense. Open access journals are usually online and available for free to anyone.

The only problem for myself? I am not a full professor so I need to continue publishing to the ‘top’ journals whether they are open access or not. So while I applaud Harvard’s effort, I hope that they are telling their junior faculty that they do not need to go for the ‘top’ journals but rather open access journals (and open access can be the ‘top tier 1’ journals but I am just assuming they are not in all cases)

The effects of time-compressed instruction and redundancy on learning and learners’ perceptions of cognitive load

My recent article published in Computers and Education:

Abstract: Can increasing the speed of audio narration in multimedia instruction decrease training time and still maintain learning? The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of time-compressed instruction and redundancy on learning and learners’ perceptions of cognitive load. 154 university students were placed into conditions that consisted of time-compression (0%, 25%, or 50%) and redundancy (redundant text and narration or narration only). Participants were presented with multimedia instruction on the human heart and its parts then given factual and problem solving knowledge tests, a cognitive load measure, and a review behavior (back and replay buttons) measure. Results of the study indicated that participants who were presented 0% and 25% compression obtained similar scores on both the factual and problem solving measures. Additionally, they indicated similar levels of cognitive load. Participants who were presented redundant instruction were not able to perform as well as participants presented non-redundant instruction.


Instructional Technology and Instructional Design Conferences

Many of my Master’s students ask me which conferences they should be attending so I have made a list to help them out. I have only put a few of the bigger conferences, so remember there are many more. Also I have organized them by career choice as my students go into corporate, higher ed, and K-12 fields.


–ASTD (http://www.astd.org/)
–ISPI (http://www.ispi.org/)
–SALT (http://www.saltconference.com/)


–ISTE (http://www.iste.org/conference/ISTE-2012.aspx)
–SITE (http://site.aace.org/conf/)

Higher Education/Research

–AECT (http://www.aect.org/newsite/)
–AERA (http://www.aera.net/)