Does your learning style matter?
We’ve all heard people say ‘I need to read it learn it’ or ‘I’m more of visual learner’ but what does current research tell us? Nichola Ebbern, Associate Director – Infrastructure, at Capita looks at learning styles and the impact on health & safety training.
On our quest for greater self-knowledge, many of us take tests and quizzes both on work sponsored training and in our own time. The most common assessment of learning types relies on Honey and Mumford’s learn styles questionnaire. This work is based on Kolb’s experiential learning theory which was first published in 1984 and the world has changed considerably since then.
The belief that we all have preferred ways of learning hasn’t though and still holds true 35 years later. This propagated by organisations offering services to help learners identify their preferred style and training facilitators and teachers adapt their approach to instruction appropriately. I undertook a straw poll among colleagues and friends, and they all expressed the view that they would learn more if the information was transmitted in their preferred format. But is this actually true?
In 2008, Pashler et al, cognitive psychologists, published a paper following their research into this area. They did not dispute the existence of preferences. What they did find was that in reality learning in that style only didn’t help the individual learn more or more quickly. They referred to this as the ‘meshing hypothesis’ where the learning is produced to the learner’s preference so that, in theory, absorption of information is improved. They reviewed much literature associated with learning theories and found that credible evidence in these studies was lacking.
They concluded that there was, at that time, insufficient evidence to support incorporating learn styles assessments of learners into the way education is delivered to achieve better learning outcomes. They raised concerns about the amount of investment in this area by the education system and business. They found the contrast between the popularity of this approach and the lack of credible evidence ‘striking and disturbing’.
Moving forward to 2015, Rogowsky et al wanted to test this meshing theory in a way that could provide the ‘credible evidence’ sited as missing by Pashler et al. They created a test environment to work through their methodology in the form of two research questions.
In conclusion, they acknowledged the attractiveness of the learning styles idea for educators, particularly where people are struggling to learn. They found that teachers are often asked to state on their lesson plans how they will accommodate the different styles which drives the idea further into the system. However they failed to find any statistically significant, empirical evidence to support the meshing theory.
Further research by Hussman and O’Loughlin in 2018 confirmed this result and took it a step further – students on their research programme didn’t self-study in their preferred learning styles and when they did, it didn’t help them to improve their grades.
So, what does this mean?
Although we may believe we have a preferred learning style, there is no significant impact on the end result of our learning if our training sessions or learning is undertaken in that style.
As someone writing and delivering training on a regular basis, what I have learnt from this delve into educational research is that the key to great training that delivers on the learning objectives is the link between the trainer and the delegate.
Health and safety training is too often seen as boring, dry and uninteresting. Delegates arriving with this mindset are unlikely to absorb much information as they have already decided the course is irrelevant. The trainer needs a toolbox of activities, case studies and enthusiasm to break down these barriers and convince the attendees that they know something worth learning.
Incorporating the traditional learning styles into training through a variety of activities leads to varied and interesting training. Linking the training to their work environment is also key – health and safety is not something done in isolation in a classroom, it is a living, breathing way of life to keep safe and healthy at work.
Using what we know about learning styles to share information, test understanding and make connections between new information and existing knowledge in a variety of ways gives delegates the best opportunity to take the classroom learning into their daily behaviours.
Wellbeing at work
Nichola’s other passion within health and safety is wellbeing at work. Hear her views on the benefit of a wellness at work programme, recruitment and retention at Safety & Health Expo 2019.
The session, ‘Wellbeing at work – differences in what ‘snowflakes’ and ‘baby boomers’ expect from their employers, and the benefits of wellbeing for recruitment and retention’, can be found in the Workplace Wellbeing Theatre on 19 June at 12.30.
Registration for the show is now open, click on the link below to secure your free place.