where an understanding of the actual state of the cognitive research can help us avoid falling into the trap of believing something that is at best inaccurate and at worst unhelpful. In my experience, the most common in our industry is an attachment to the idea of learning styles. Tere are many approaches to
learning styles – mostly derived from Gardner’s multiple intelligences hypothesis7
– of which the most
common is the division of learners into visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. Te contention is fairly intuitive and self-explanatory – someone identified as a visual learner will learn more
We should be careful to strip out the neuroscience to see whether the underlying argument makes sense or adds to what we already know
(and more effectively) when presented with visual information; an auditory learner will derive more benefit from auditory information and so on. Te good thing about this view of
learning styles is that it clearly lends itself well to simple – and hopefully persuasive – experimental design. Do visual learners learn better when presented with information in visual form? Do auditory learners learn better with auditory information? Pashler et al8
looking for information and/or experimental data to support the learning styles hypothesis. What they found was that there was virtually no good quality research to support the idea of learning styles or their impact on learning. In their words “that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice”. From our point of view, therefore, it should be clear that designing development interventions to match participants’ alleged learning styles is a waste of
precious time and energy. Rather, we should accept that we are all visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners.
If not learning styles, then what?
So, it appears that we can’t necessarily trust articles with neuroscientific language in them, we need to be wary of anything that shows a picture of the brain and the research into a very common developmental belief (learning styles) shows little or no support for it. Neuroscience so far has been very good at telling us what not to believe. What instead can it tell us about what to believe – and how can we use that to support our learners? Cuevas9
to the concepts being discussed verbally. Tese could include charts, graphs, pictures, drawings, videos and any other visual cues that support the concept.” Dual coding seems to offer a
promising focus for further research into how we learn and how we can continue to improve our own learning design and approaches. It offers a more inclusive view of learning, where we are all visual learners, as well as being auditory learners and (possibly) kinaesthetic learners. Balancing the amount of stress we put on our learners’ verbal and visual systems will lead to better learning outcomes all round.
has contrasted the research
into learning styles with that into an alternative, mutually exclusive, learning model known as dual coding. Dual coding suggests there are two independent pathways for encoding information into long-term memory – one visual and one verbal. As we know, almost all adult learning includes some degree of language processing. Dual coding predicts all learners will learn more efficiently when some degree of visual stimulation is added to that inevitable verbal component. Tere is evidence to support this – even if the exact mechanism
by which dual coding might work is still the subject of debate. Te good news for development professionals is that we don’t need to understand how dual coding works, we just need to understand that it works – and how we can best make use of it. Most importantly, this means
we need to limit the words on our slides and stop talking over slides that need words on them in order to avoid cognitive overload as we over-stress the verbal element of dual coding and under-use the visual. Where does that leave us?
Ultimately, with a reminder of what many of us were told when we started working in development. Visual aids are just that – visuals that aid learning and retention. More positively, Cuevas suggests that: “Rather than creating PowerPoints and Prezis with paragraphs and extensive written explanations, the presentations should only contain key words or phrases for overarching themes and predominantly feature visuals that relate
Iain Robertson is principal consultant at the Inspirational Development Group (IDG) www. inspirationaldevelopment.com
References 1 fMRI images blood flowin the brain. Researchers then use this information on blood flowto establish where in the brain activity is taking place, and look to correlate it with specific tasks to infer whether a particular part of the brain is involved in that task.
2 Rosen J, ‘The brain on the stand’, The New York Times Magazine.
3 Weisberg DS, Keil F, Goodstein J, Rawson E and Gray J, ‘The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations’, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2008.
4 McCabe DP, and Castel AD, ‘Seeing is believing: The effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning’, Cognition, 2008.
5 Eklund A, Nichols TE, and Knutsson H, ‘Why fMRI inferences for spatial extent have inflated false- positive rates’, PNAS, 2016.
6 Hendel-Giller R et al, ‘The Neuroscience of Learning: A NewParadigm for Corporate Education’, Maritz Institute White Paper, 2010
7 Gardner H, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, NewYork Basic Books, 1983.
8 Pashler H, McDaniel M, Rohrer D and Bjork R, ‘Learning styles: Concepts and evidence’, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105-119, 2009.
9 Cuevas J, ‘An analysis of current evidence supporting two alternate learning models: learning styles and dual coding’, Journal of Educational Sciences & Psychology, 2016.
10 EgWelcome SE, Paivio A, McRae K, Joanisse MF, ‘An electrophysiological study of task demands on concreteness effects: Evidence for dual coding theory’, Experimental Brain Research, 212(3), 347-358. 2011.
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