Misconception #2: Matching Training to Dominant Styles Improves Learning
Imagine you are back at school. The teacher stands at the front and beings their Chemistry lesson on ionic bonds. The lesson is taught entirely through text-heavy slides and detailed descriptions of the process. Your learning style states that this is your forte; you process information best via in depth and analytical explanations. The theory around learning styles argues that you should ace the exam because the teaching style matches your learning style. Your two peers, however, are destined to fail because they prefer pictorial representations of the material and practical, hands-on approaches.
However, this is never the case. There is a large misconception around learning styles that effective learning only occurs when it the training methods are aligned with your learning style. Therefore trainers have to set different material to match the different styles of their trainers. The issue is that effective learning occurs in a cycle, not through alignment of training and learning style.
Kolb’s learning cycle, one of the most influential models of learning, identifies four key stages of learning: concrete experience, reflective experience, abstract conceptualisation, and active experimentation. These simply translate to learning by feeling, watching, thinking, and doing. Effective learning is thought to occur when someone progresses through each stage of the cycle (see Figure 1): having the concrete experience; observation and reflection upon the experience; forming analysis and conclusions regarding the experience; using these to test hypotheses in future situations, resulting in new experiences again.
How do learning styles fit into Kolb’s learning cycle? Kolb specified that learning styles represent a preference for a particular stage of the cycle. As educational fads have peddled the training-learning style alignment, it ignores the rest of the learning cycle. That is not to say that learning styles are not useful to the trainer. The trainer needs to use them in two key ways.
Firstly, as we have mentioned before, it outlines the strengths and areas of weakness for the learner. It is a matter of understanding the abilities of those around you. The key for the trainer is to understand that learners will have different starting points based off their preferences, and then to provide material and learning opportunities that accommodate for all four of the learning styles. This way the trainer helps learners at individual points, as well as helping all learners progress through the learning cycle.
Secondly, it provides self-awareness for the trainer. The trainer, too, will have a learning style and a preference for processing information. The tendency will be to present information in the way that is most comfortable to the trainer at the cost of other learning cycle phases. It is important for the trainer to be aware of this, and consciously create content that addresses all four learning cycle phases.
You can read part 1 here.