Evidence and Learning Styles

In my previous post I spoke about the different types of evidence used in education. Here is a concrete example of what I mean.

The Educational Endowment Fund have been set up to review the effectiveness of certain educational reforms. They have an overview of a range of different reforms on their website, together with an estimate of their effectiveness. One of these is learning styles, which they say has a ‘low impact’ of +2 months. The further detail on this suggests that whilst the impact is low, ‘one or two pupils in a class of 30 might benefit from being taught in this way.’ They draw this conclusion from meta-analyses of the effect of learning styles.

They do link to a good article explaining the science behind learning styles more fully. But they don’t summarise this article, and nor do the mention that the general scientific consensus is that learning styles don’t exist. Let me repeat that: learning styles do not exist. And yet the EEF is considering their effectiveness as a teaching strategy.

Although their summary makes it clear that learning styles lack impact, and that the evidence for this is robust, the fact that they are given a +2 month rating is confusing, as is the suggestion that one or two students in a class might benefit from the approach. I think if you didn’t know any of the research, you could easily conclude that  learning styles are a valid if low-impact intervention that might have an impact on a couple of students, and that as they are fairly low-cost they might be worthwhile retaining.

This is exactly what I meant in this post about scientific evidence being neglected in the English educational establishment.To my mind, this page should focus far more on the scientific reasons why we know learning styles don’t exist.

And a part of me wonders if the EEF should even be considering learning styles as a candidate for inclusion in these studies, especially if doing these meta-analyses costs a lot of money. I wouldn’t expect them to do meta-analyses of Brain Gym, for example. The significant thing about Brain Gym wasn’t that the research showed it didn’t have an impact. It was that it was scientifically implausible.

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6 thoughts on “Evidence and Learning Styles

  1. teachingbattleground

    As I’m sure you know, Hattie concluded that in education research anything less than an effect size of 0.4 was worthless. If correct, this would make it inevitable that plenty of complete nonsense would, nevertheless, have a positive effect.

    The difficult question is whether Hattie is right to draw the line there, or whether there is some other way to sort the wheat from the chaff.

    Reply
    1. The Wing to Heaven Post author

      The EEF don’t seem to make the 0.4 point clear, or if they do, I have missed it. I also think it is highly confusing of them to suggest that 0.14 correlates to a 2 month improvement, or to an improvement for 1 or 2 kids in a class.

      Reply
  2. teachingbattleground

    I’m not defending it, just suggesting that if education research is accepted uncritically (as thee EEF appear to have done) then this is inevitable.

    Reply
  3. Kristopher Boulton

    Despite the scientific evidence, many people swear by learning styles because they believe they’ve found their own personal style. I’ve recently been told anecdotes of ‘needing to write something down’, where others besides them can just listen and still remember, while others describe themselves as ‘visual learners’, needing to see what’s being discussed.

    The anecdotes are compelling – how can you argue with someone who says that through experience, they know they learn best in a particular manner? To reconcile this, I’ve been wondering if it can simply be the case that, of course, we all benefit from a visual cue when learning something novel, and those who are more successful without it already have a greater store of knowledge or well developed related schemata to enable them to process new aural information on the fly much more effectively?

    Reply
  4. Robbie Coleman (@robbiehcoleman)

    Hi Daisy,

    Thanks very much for your interest about the Toolkit – apologies for missing this post before now.
    The reason our Toolkit includes an entry on Learning Styles is because, whether or not they exist, we think it is useful for schools and teachers to know what the research on them says. It’s our view that even where things are not proven to have much impact (or indeed are proven not to have much impact), it is important to include this information.

    The research on learning styles shows that adopting them has, on average, a small positive impact on attainment, but we hope that the text of the entry makes clear that this is likely to be as a result of other factors, such as learners believing they can succeed being important, rather than because learning styles can be identified or exist.

    Overall, we are very keen to balance providing accessible, clear information and encouraging teachers to dig down into the evidence, and we’d be really keen to hear any suggestions you have for good ways to do this. If you do, or have any other comments/questions, please do get in touch – my email address is robbie.coleman@eefoundation.org.uk.

    Kind regards,
    Robbie

    Reply
  5. Robbie Coleman (@robbiehcoleman)

    Hi Daisy,

    Thanks very much for your interest about the Toolkit – apologies for missing this post before now.
    The reason our Toolkit includes an entry on Learning Styles is because, whether or not they exist, we think it is useful for schools and teachers to know what the research on them says. It’s our view that even where things are not proven to have much impact (or indeed are proven not to have much impact), it is important to include this information.

    The research on learning styles shows that adopting them has, on average, a small positive impact on attainment, but we hope that the text of the entry makes clear that this is likely to be as a result of learners believing they can succeed being important, rather than because learning styles can be identified or exist.

    Overall, we are very keen to balance providing accessible clear information and encouraging teachers to dig down into the evidence, and we’d be really keen to hear any suggestions you have for good ways to do this. If you do, or have any other comments/questions, please do get in touch – my email address is robbie.coleman@eefoundation.org.uk.

    Kind regards,
    Robbie

    Reply

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