Do you want to make a difference in L&D, or do you want to be liked?

Donald H Taylor, Jun 15, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

So this is a classic case of the straw man fallacy: "they (learning styles) are accepted because as a profession we are too keen to be liked rather than to be critical. We almost never ask 'What’s your source? Where’s the research?' when someone wheels out another of these pseudoscientific canards." Actually, I see that question asked so often (especially about learning styles) that I wonder why some people are so concerned about this as opposed to any number of other questionable practices.

So let me try once again to capture the appeal of learning styles. I'll use an analogy: height. It is immediately and intuitively obvious that people are different heights. So when someone comes along and says "there's no such thing as heights" we know that this is ridiculous. What the person really means is "teaching people differently according to height produces no measurable difference in learning outcome." And we can understand how certain types of tests produced that result. But what if we're teaching people how to play basketball? Now height matters a lot. And that's the same thing with learning styles: they don't matter at all until they matter a lot.

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