Metalearning and Learning Styles

Donald Clark, Big Dog, Little Dog, Jan 20, 2010
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Interesting take on learning styles: Clark argues you get more benefit by teaching against them. For example, "while verbal learners may like to read about something rather than actually try it, they do much better when they actually apply the skills (kinesthetic), rather than reading about it." My own take is that, while this may work on a one-time or infrequent basis, because of the novelty or irritation factor, if you try to do this every day you just end up with a bunch of bored and irritated students. Still, that's something that could be looked at (I guess, if you measure the "success" of learning as the retention and repetition by a student of a small instructor-defined set of data).

A couple of other things, though. First, it occurs to me that if there's no such thing as "learning styles" (somehow defined) then there are no grounds for student-selected or learner-centered learning; just put all instruction into the same box, and deliver it the same way, because individual preferences don't matter. Whiuch seems to me to be a reductio.

And second, people have got to stop repeating the old saw that "scientific studies can normally only prove what exists, not what does not exist." It's just not true! You can prove there are no dogs in my living room, that there are no 15-minute interruptions in gravity every hour on the hour, that there are no aircraft made of water (or even ice!), that there is no phlogiston, that there are no numbers greater than three and less than two. The old saw applies only to a special class of entities: entities that have no consequences, entities that are outside our experience, and entities that cannot be tested. Everything else can be known to exist or not exist.
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