Meeting professionals are long overdue to retire learning style myths in favor of evidenced-based education. (So are ASAE and the Convention Industry Council-CIC-which promotes unscientific learning styles in the CMP Handbook!)
It’s time for conference organizers to bridge the gap between learning research and practice.
It’s time to bring the research into the conference planning for successful education and learning.
Beyond Education Fads And Fiction
“Unlike medicine, agriculture and industrial production, the field of education operates largely on the basis of ideology and professional consensus. As such it is subject to fads and is incapable of the cumulative progress that follows from the application of the scientific method…We will change education to make it an evidence-based field,” U.S. Department of Education (2002), 48.
The progress to evidenced-based education has been slow. The progress to evidenced-based conference education is practically non-existent.
The time has come for meeting professionals to embrace evidenced-based education. The time is now to retire learning style myths in favor of more valid, scientifically proven instructional design.
Time To Let Go Of Outdated Models
About 400 years ago people believed that the body was made of four basic substances, called the four humors. The four humors were blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile.
When a person was healthy, the four humors were in balance. An excess or deficit of one of those humors lead to disease and disability. The scientific method and modern medical science discredited humorism but people refused to let go of old beliefs until the middle of the 20th Century.
Just like letting go of the four humors, the time has come for conference organizers to let go of learning styles. It’s time to adopt evidenced-based education. We now have a sufficient body of related evidence to inform our conference instructional decisions.
It is time to let go of learning styles, VARK, learning preferences, right and left brain hemisphericity and other outdated models. It’s time to put to bed auditory learners, visual learners, sensors, intuitive and other learning style flavors. It’s time to accept and practice evidenced-based education.
Fallacies Of Learning Styles
We now have enough scientific evidence that shows when we are learning something new, we are all visual learners. (Forget what VARK says! The scientific research now proves differently.) We all benefit from a relevant visual added to words.
We are all auditory learners. Evidence shows that when viewing a complex animated visual, we benefit from an audio explanation, rather than a detailed text. (Forget what VARK says!)
Room Environments Or Prior Knowledge: What’s More Important?
What’s more important when learning new information? Prior knowledge!
Conference participants with related prior knowledge to a specific topic actually have mental models in the long term memory. That helps them connect new information. Those with prior experience can benefit from a free-flowing open space learning environment.
On the other hand, novices need more defined structure of a stair-step approach to education. Thrust novices into an open space concept and they’ll fail. The brain has no prior knowledge or experience to connect with new information.
Conference organizers would be better off investing resources in assessing prior knowledge of conference attendees. Then they could prescribe education that tailors instruction. They could tailor both content and instructional tactics.
This is more important than investing money in new types of room sets and seating! Changing how and where the participant sits as well as the furniture without changing the instructional design is just a waste of money.
My hope and wish is that meeting professionals will redirect resources invested in new room sets and learning styles to evidenced-based instructional techniques.
Why are learning styles and preferences so prevalent in our conference education? Why is there such an emphasis on new room sets and furniture in conference planning and an avoidance of improvement in instructional design? Why does the Convention Industry Council continue to promote scientifically proven inaccurate learning styles as part of the CMP process?
Want more scientific proof about why learning styles are a myth? Here are a few references:
Bligh, D.A. (2000) What’s The Use Of Lectures
Clark, R.C. & R.E. Mayer, (2008) Learning by viewing versus learning by doing: Evidenced based guidelines for principled learning environments
Cook, D.A., W.G. Thompson, K.G. Thomas & M.R. Thomas (2009) Lack of interaction between sensing-intuitive learning styles and problem-first versus ifnormation-first instruction
Haidet, P., R.O> Morgan, K. O’Malley, B.J. Moran & B.F. Richards (2004) A controlled trial of active versus passive learning strategies in a large group setting.
Kratzig, G.P., & K.D. Arbuthnott. (2006) Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: A test of hypothesis
Moreno, R. (2006) Does the modality principle hold for different media? A test of methods-affects-kearning hypothesis