Recently Quartz, a worldwide digital-only publication for the business elite, produced an article entitled, "The concept of different "learning styles" is one of the greatest neuroscience myths". Are they a myth? Are adjustments educators and, in particular, homeschooling parents make to best connect their student(s) with the learning goal a waste of time?
If after reading the article you are left with a sense of bewilderment, then you are probably not alone. After all, while the article cites the valid difficulty of studying such concepts scientifically, it provides no words on how applying a variety of teaching methods may prove to be useful in spite of the lack of science to back it up. Instead the author dismissively indicates that just because students may have "fun" with the application of different methods, it doesn't mean that such adjustments actually make a difference in the learning process. The vibe basically is that educators are wasting their time with these kinds of efforts.
Am I writing to say that I have scientifically valid evidence to debunk their observations? No, that is not my point. However, I am expressing my concern that just because there are not heaps of scientific evidence in support of the idea of learning styles, that educators are indirectly discouraged from innovating new and applicable ways to reach their students. As homeschooling parents, we can and should actively seek to run our own observational efforts to see what does work best in our own families and variations in learning methods are a piece of that larger puzzle. We all know that families can sometimes have students who work much better in a structured, text-book style approach versus those who need to attach new concepts to some combination of techniques including visual aids, auditory cues, emotions, movement, or interactions with others.
This kind of experiential knowledge reminds me of when our oldest son was fighting leukemia and at one point for many months we lived around the country seeking options for him. For the message we received in each treatment institution was always framed by the maximum of what that particular institution could provide. Phoenix Children's couldn't talk to us about double-cord blood transplants since they weren't versed in it. Seattle Children's could provide transplant details but weren't very helpful when our son faced cancer that would not submit to their typical protocols to get back into remission. The National Institutes of Health could offer a number of novel antibody therapies to attempt remission, but they only had access to their protocols. Similarly, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital could only talk about their one and only treatment option and could not speak to other choices. My point? If we had only gone with what local doctors presented us, if we had only used what was available as accepted protocol in our area, if we had been unwilling to be part of the research process at multiple institutions, then our son would not have experienced the benefits he received from the various options we tried and would not have survived as long as he did. If we had waited for tons of repeatable evidence to come in on every single option we attempted, we would have lost more time with him and he would not have had the good quality of life that he experienced during those twenty-five difficult months. So lack of voluminous data and experimental repeatability in and of itself should not be a deal-breaker when seeking our best options in life.
Now back to learning styles. How can homeschoolers respond? We can make sure that we don't allow unhelpful articles discourage us into doing nothing. Keep journals on each of your students. Make notes on when concepts seem to more easily transfer versus other occasions where it is just "not sticking". What tools, teaching approach, etc. do you use to make it all work? Wouldn't it be great if homeschoolers could one day pool their observational feedback and grab the attention of the scientific community; possibly sharing how learning styles and other teaching concepts aren't such a myth after all?
Interestingly, Quartz goes on in a separate article to report that "Most researching findings are false..." and that many science experiments are designed with flaws stating that as much as two-thirds of published research is unable to be replicated. That is a problem, but the article is unsurprisingly light on solutions that will impact us anytime soon. No matter. While any data we collect on learning styles or on related data as a homeschooling community or as individual families might not matter to the scientific community, we can rest in the knowledge that actual benefits were observed and realized at least within our own little corner of the world.
Homeschooling since 2000, Carol shares in her blog observations, confessions, and musings that help provide perspective and inspiration for homeschooling moms.