Learning Styles: The Educational Myth that Just Won’t Die (Especially in Academic Libraries)

Well, here we go again.

This time the culprit’s an article in the brand-spankin’ new issue of College & Research Libraries (who, ironically enough, recently published a little credo about raising the stakes for research done in the profession) entitled “Learning Style Dimensions and Professional Characteristics of Academic Librarians“:

The article’s question:

Do librarians with different characteristics, such as type of work responsibilities or age, have different learning styles?
Though the article hand-waves and refers to one 2005 article they cite as evidence of the continued validity of learning styles, they ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence that there’s simply no scientific reason to believe that teaching with one’s “preferred learning style” in mind actually enhances anyone’s learning . Despite this, the author’s systemically measure librarians’ preferred learning styles, and suggest things like:
In the classroom setting, learning styles need not be used to prescriptively modify
learning materials or attempt to match learning plans to specific individuals, but instead
as a framework by which educators can understand the diversity of their students and
by which individuals can reflect on their own tendencies in teaching and learning. Both
self-awareness and awareness of others’ potential differences can enhance teaching and
learning. Specifically, learning style assessments may encourage librarian-teachers to
recognize when an alternative teaching style is desirable and to expand their teaching
style to accommodate a larger variety of learning styles.
Perhaps, too, we might suggest that therapists in 2015 heed Descartes’ 17th century belief that depression may be the result of too much black bile floating around in one’s skull – you know, as a way of thinking about the wide array of compassionate alternative perspectives we might take toward depressed persons. Sure, it’s not true, but how else could we possibly take into account diverse perspectives on such a complicated issue?
Educational psychologists – even ones who recognize the central importance (and deep cognitive complexity) of information literacy – have long recognized that learning styles are an “urban legend” not based in fact. Hopefully someday more librarians will think evidence about student learning is worth taking seriously too.
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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game

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