I ran across this article from the International Weekly Journal of Science titled “The science myths that will not die.” It’s what you would expect – myths that aren’t true but we keep perpetuating them. One of the myths jumped out at me because it was related to training.
Myth 4: Individuals learn best when taught in their preferred learning style.
The author of the article does point out a couple of truths associated with learning styles:
- Many people do have a preferred way for how they like to receive information. And,
- There is evidence to suggest that the best educational outcomes occur when information is presented in multiple modes (i.e. visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.)
This isn’t an episode of Mythbusters. I’m not here to take on the science community about learning styles. Learning is about communication and information. And, I totally agree with the author that each of us has a preferred way of receiving information. I’d even add that our preferred way might change depending upon type of information. For instance, I might prefer reading business subjects and hands-on for cooking topics. It might also be possible that our preferences change over time – my preferences as a college student could be different from today (and in fact, it is.)
I think the author’s point is that we cannot take a single test or assessment that will determine our preferred style and use that forever and ever in all situations. Which totally makes sense. To me, the importance of “learning styles” is for designers to create programs using multiple methods and for learners to receive information using multiple mediums. It’s even possible that we could learn more by venturing outside of our comfort zone and receiving information in a non-preferred style. As learners we have to be open to that possibility.
What designers, facilitators, and learners have to balance is using the “step outside of your comfort zone” option, but not as a way to force an uncomfortable learning experience. Most of us like learning in a safe environment. Learning involves making mistakes. So the reason a learner might embrace the concept of a “preferred style” is because it provides comfort and safety.
Organizations are paying a lot of attention to learning these days. Candidates need to be able to demonstrate they are capable of self-learning. That doesn’t mean simply learning what the company or their manager tells them. It means having a high level understanding of what they need to know, how they need to learn it, and what resources are the best to accomplish the task. On some level, I wonder if the whole conversation about preferred learning styles being a myth matters. Because the focus on learning isn’t going away anytime soon, we can use our preferred learning style as a basis for self-discovery, which really doesn’t require science. That’s no myth.1