Thursday, August 19, 2010

Learning Styles and Generational Differences: Do They Matter? (Jolly Holden/Phillip Westfall)

"Some educational psychologists say learning styles don't exist."

Wow - I'm in. We think that we learn differently...but we don't. And research supports it. Learning style is NOT a predictor of learning outcomes.

Meaning out of Meaninglessness

Research was done on the SATs last year. 100,000 students, outcome was a .8 correlation (HUGE) to the fact that success on SAT = success in college. Learning style tests, however, do not predict any form of success whatsoever. Neuroscience has proved that 90% of what you attain/process is VISUAL. Therefore, you can SAY you're BK, you can SAY you're audial...not true. We learn not by modality, but by the context we put it in. And how do we set that context? Visual cues, memories, etc...We attach meaning to EVERYTHING, but if we accepted we're VISUAL, we'd be a lot happier and accepting of strictly VISUAL training.

(Holy stuff...this seriously has me on the edge of my seat. THIS is the revolutionary thought I was hoping to find here. Note to self - Review THIS presentation as soon as you get home (to review generational distinctions, as well).)

Narration in training is brought up next and it is shot down so hard...I love it. Basically, for all of the clamoring that people do to get Narration plugged into training (on top of on screen text), it is pointless. POINTLESS. If it compliments the text (i.e. - not verbatim), great. But if you read the screen text, the narration actually SLOWS LEARNING DOWN. Brilliant.

Learning Styles

As of right here, right now, 71 different learning styles have been identified with 4 in the wings, waiting for acceptance. 75 learning styles. With no relationship to predicting outcomes, though, the speaker poses an awesome question: "Why waste your time?" He asked a colleague what he thought of this research...that there were 75 different learning which the colleague replied:

It's a convenient scapegoat for poor instruction. Spend your time instead on good instructional design.

Intrinsic motivation and prior knowledge are the ONLY items PROVEN by RESEARCH to have any predictability of student success. Everything else - learning style, teaching style, etc. - is just noise. WOW...genius...this is blowing my mind.

The example he gives: What does Orion (the constellation) look like? As soon as the question leaves his mouth, those of us who know, IMMEDIATELY visualize it...but in stages. He shows three images, increasing in complexity. I, admittedly, imagined the stars in the sky. Simple enough. But he progressed through images to an old drawing of the warrior, whenever I think of it, I will think of the drawing, due simply to context.

Another context example: "What was the headline in yesterday's newspaper?" "What was the headline three months ago in the gulf?" Which one do you remember more quickly? The one with the context...two words increases your memory by three months.

So, what are we saying here? It doesn't matter what style we design the training for? No more narration? Visual only? Well, yes and no. But I'll say this - my view of BAK, Modalities, etc. are forever changed because of this session. Amazing, insipiring stuff...awesome job. I don't even care that we left out the generational stuff...this was perfect.

"Throwing technology at a problem has not improved learning."


  1. Shawn, since you asked for it, here are the links to the SALT Interactive Technology Conference session on Learning Styles and Generational Differences: Do They Matter?
    Flash version:
    Downloadable PPT:
    Learning Styles White Paper:

  2. Hey, Jolly! Thanks SO much for an amazing presentation. Out of all of them, yours was definitely the one that made me reconsider a lot about what I do, day in/day out (see: "Everything you know is wrong"). Made me want to get a Federal job just so I could join!