Are Learning Style Inventories Useful In Teaching?Earl Harewood | Lecturer, Heriot-Watt University/School of Higher Education
Learning styles inventories are tricky in that they do not give information about the only way individuals learn but provide some base information about the predominant way an individual learns.
What that means is that other ways of learning can be enhanced or developed by the environment, brain exercises and individual development. I will add that even a change in work habits, position, life style or the leadership of the organization one is associated with can propel someone to adopt another learning style, which can become their dominant learning style. Another important thing to note is that predominant learning style can be adopted for a short window as well of an extended period of time depending on the stimulus involved. I think in the case of the learner, it is good to know some of his/her own propensities as a learner. Learning style inventories are also very powerful tools for the facilitator to benchmark his/her instructional approach so as to best meet the learning needs of a diverse audience.
By knowing his/her learning preference, the learner tends to advance to a less passive role and thus, become a more active participant in the learning process. The learner now has responsibility, not only to advance his/her learning needs, but for the unfolding of a greater part of entire learning process. I make this statement because the learner now has a piece of information that tells him/her how he/she learns, but far greater, that there are others in the group whose learning style might be very different than his/hers.
A point to note about learning styles inventories, especially, those that require self-reporting, is that they tend to vary by a multitude of factors, mainly environmental, age, vocational, life experiences, culture, and the likes. This does not, in any way, nullify the usefulness of the instrument, but it provides some baseline information to the learner for further exploration and to gauge the effectiveness of the instructional strategies given what is known about their learning styles as it is today. A point worth mentioning here is that learning styles has immense implications for promoting active learning among very diverse groups of learners given the potential for using a mixture of instructional strategies with congruency with the noted learning styles.
However, I don’t believe that a conflict exists between learning styles and the learning pyramid. I think knowledge is empowering, not only to the learner, by to the facilitator. From the learners’ point of view, the awareness of his/her learning style puts his/her in a position to know what works and what does not as far as advancing his/her learning needs and can articulate those to the instructor. From the facilitator’s vantage point, knowing the diversity in his/her classroom afford many opportunities to tailor their instructional strategies to accommodate the widest cross-section of learners possible. Given this, I think, if anything, there is propensity for greater knowledge retention given the possibilities for congruency between the learner style of learner and the instructional strategies.
Author Perspective: Educator