Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Council Estate Christians part 2: Learning Styles

Some people seem to think that people from council estates have a particular learning style. I have two problems with this view:

1) This is based on a misunderstanding of learning styles:

When I started teacher training for FE in 2001, the in-thing was learning styles. Supposedly, everyone had a particular learning style. I got very much into this idea, and was convinced that I was a visual learner. So much so, that I didn't listen to mp3 teachings because I thought that I didn't learn well by listening. Many students and teachers have subsequently taken learning inventories to find out what type of learner they are.

BUT then Prof. Frank Coeffield from the Institute of Education(IoE) pointed out that there was no evidence that learning style categories and inventories are valid in post 16 education. Students can take an inventory and find they have a particular learning style, but then the next find find they have a different style. Who Knew?

This is not to say that people don't prefer learning a particular way at seasons in their life, but it does strongly suggest that it is unwise to label someone as a particular type of learner. If we do this, we need to be aware of two things:

1) We do not have valid evidence backing our labeling (anecdotal stories are not valid evidence!).

2) Teachers may end up limiting their teaching to a way that they think suits the learner (when it may not), and students may limit themselves to only learning a particular way (when in fact they may benefit from being exposed to a whole bunch of learning styles). Fortunately, after ignoring teaching mp3's for a long time, I came to realise that I could learn things from mp3's and recognised that I was not solely a visual learner.

So, even before we consider how to teach people from Council Estates, we need to check if our understanding of learning styles is really correct.

2) This assumes learning styles are based on class / postcodes / schooling etc.:

My first point, almost makes this second point unnecessary. If people cannot be neatly categorized into preferred learning styles, then we certainly cannot do this by people's postcode. No valid independent research has been performed that shows Council Estate people to have a particular learning style.


The whole notion of learning styles for individuals is on shaky ground, yet has been surprisingly naively accepted (even by myself). To then apply this notion to Council Estates goes well beyond the evidence.