To the Editor:
Education Week’s blog post “Teachers Still Believe in ‘Learning Styles’ and Other Myths About Cognition” (Sept. 5, 2019) discusses a survey by The Learning Agency that found “almost all teachers believe persistent myths about learning.” Although balanced, the post concludes with a dig from Ulrich Boser, who conducted the survey, that equates believing such learning myths to believing in medical bloodletting. Such teacher shaming in a publication that acknowledges how many teachers quit due to a lack of respect is puzzling (especially based on the survey’s sampling of only 203 educators).
Like many educational trends, the push for teaching based on learning styles came from outside the classroom. As a high school teacher, I attended multiple professional development sessions and read numerous articles exhorting instruction geared to students’ VARK type (visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic) or their social or solitary style. EdWeek published numerous articles and blog posts on the topic, admittedly with growing skepticism. Just last year, however, one opinion blog post praised artificial intelligence for its ability to adapt curriculum to learning styles.
For its surveys, The Learning Agency also uses Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing platform that has been criticized for its treatment of workers. Workers’ tasks have included screening video for graphic violence and collecting data to ultimately replace professional jobs by machine (a trend certainly not to the advantage of our students). Is such a company really the best way to get teachers’ opinions?
Indeed, I find for-profit big-tech companies’ involvement in education a far more disturbing educational trend than learning styles—at least that trend respected the role of teachers and students as individuals. Hopefully, educators will learn from learning styles’ decline and start to question which tech trends have students’ interests at heart and say no to those that don’t.
New Orleans, La.
A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 2019 edition of Education Week as Question Trends, Not Teachers