Putting on the style

Some years ago, I was running a workshop with a bunch of lecturers and I asked them to read a short article on motivation and discuss it in groups.  At this point one of the participants spoke up and said that she couldn’t do it – couldn’t read the article.

  I must have looked a bit surprised,  she explained;

“I’m a visual learner.  Print means nothing to me!”

Get out of that, I thought to myself.

What to do?  I was confused.  Didn’t she have to read as part of her job, I wondered.  I collected myself and suggested that if that was the case may she could get her group to outline the main points of the article to her.  Neither suggestion appeared to please her.

Occasionally, you come up against this kind of roadblock.  In this case the individual involved represented an almost terminal case of Learning Styles Syndrome.  In short, she was VAKed up.  Presented at some stage with the notions of Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic learning she had plumped solidly for the Visual.  For a learner, that’s limiting; for a teacher, it’s dangerous. 

Look, we know that we have different preferences in the ways we think and behave, that some like to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in, whilst others prefer to stand back, observe, take time to think.  And we know there’s any number of inventories, questionnaires and audits which tell you what your preferred style is.  But there’s little solid evidence of their reliability – certainly not enough to let them decide how you will behave.

Learning styles audits can be helpful but need to be taken with a pinch of salt.  When I use them, I make it clear that, like snapshots, they provide a picture of us, but that picture is not wholly us.  It was us at a particular time, in a particular place with, or without a particular group. 

So, beware the instant truths that these inventories can seem to provide. Too often they provide simple answers to complicated issues.  Think of them as impressions, snapshots – which, if taken ten minutes later will show a different you. 

That teacher’s reaction has stayed with me – it still disturbs me.  Imagine being a passenger in her car – how would she get from A to B?  But far more serious, what effect was she having on her students?


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