About Learning Styles

There is a running debate among educators concerning the validity of the conceptual framework of learning styles. Learning Styles emerged in the 1970’s as a theoretical explanation of the variability among individuals engaged in learning, but has been around since Aristotle. The journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) published a report (Psychological Science in the Public Interest December 2008 vol. 9 no. 3 105-119)  critical of aggregated clusters of students with common learning styles. Authors Hal Pashler of the University of California, San Diego,  Mark McDaniel of Washington University, Doug Rohrer from University of South Florida, and Robert Bjork from University of California, Los Angeles concluded

that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number. However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all possible versions of learning styles have been tested and found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all.

The Myth of Learning Styles

coverNext comes the Change Magazine Article. The article titled The Myth of Learning Styles was published in the September-October 2010 issue. The article by Cedar Riener and Daniel Willingham begins with one important salient point:
“There is no credible evidence that learning styles exist.”
So here is the punch line: Students differ in their abilities, interests, and background knowledge, but not in their learning styles. Students may have preferences about how to learn, but no evidence suggests that catering to those preferences will lead to better learning.
The article is organized around the following questions.
  • What is a Learning Style?
  • Which Claims of Learning-Styles Theorists are Correct?
  • What Do Learning-Styles Theorists Get Wrong?
  • Why Does the Belief in Learning Styles Persevere?
  • Why Should College Educators Care?

 Learning Styles: Fact and Fiction

The question of Learning Styles comes up frequently among curriculum designers, academic administrators, and faculty and reviews appear fairly regularly.  A Blog post  titled Learning Styles: Fact and Fiction – A Conference Report, from 2011 by Derek Bruff, Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University does an excellent job of framing the issues and articulating the various perspectives.

Howard Gardner setting the record straight: ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles’

An article in the Washington Post, October 16, 2013 adds another point to the review of Learning Styles. It clarifies the difference between multiple intelligences and learning styles.

 It’s been 30 years since I developed the notion of “multiple intelligences.” I have been gratified by the interest shown in this idea and the ways it’s been used in schools, museums, and businesses around the world. But one unanticipated consequence has driven me to distraction—and that’s the tendency of many people, including persons whom I cherish, to credit me with the notion of ‘learning styles’ or to collapse ‘multiple intelligences’ with ‘learning styles.’ It’s high time to relieve my pain and to set the record straight.
As an educator, I draw three primary lessons for educators:
1.       Individualize your teaching as much as possible. Instead of “one size fits all,” learn as much as you can about each student, and teach each person in ways that they find comfortable and learn effectively. Of course this is easier to accomplish with smaller classes. But ‘apps’ make it possible to individualize for everyone.
2.        Pluralize your teaching. Teach important materials in several ways, not just one (e.g. through stories, works of art, diagrams, role play). In this way you can reach students who learn in different ways. Also, by presenting materials in various ways, you convey what it means to understand something well. If you can only teach in one way, your own understanding is likely to be thin.
3.       Drop the term “styles.” It will confuse others and it won’t help either you or your students.

For the story of how Gardner came up with  Multiple Intelligences : The First Thirty Years, Howard Gardner, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The Myth of Learning Styles

As final punctuation to the point I offer Peter DeWitt’s confession.

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities on Charting the Future for a Prosperous Minnesota

charting_the_future_buttonMinnesota State Colleges & Universities have established a major Campaign for the future titled Charting the Future for a Prosperous Minnesota.

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities include 24 community and technical colleges and seven state universities, operating on 54 campuses in 47 communities enrolling 400,000 plus students annually and employing more than 10,000 faculty and 7,600 staff.

In addition to the report a website has been established as a hub for the campaign.

The campaign is shaped around six primary recommendations:

  1. Dramatically increase the success of all learners, especially those in diverse populations traditionally underserved by higher education.
  2. Develop a collaborative and coordinated academic planning process that advances affordability, transferability, and access to our programs and services across the state.
  3. Certify student competencies and capabilities, expand pathways to accelerate degree completion through credit for prior learning, and foster the award of competency-based credit and degrees.
  4. Expand the innovative use of technology to deliver high quality online courses, strengthen classroom instruction and student services, and provide more individualized learning and advising.
  5. Work together under new models to be the preferred provider of comprehensive workplace solutions through programs and services that build employee skills and solve real-world problems for communities and businesses across the state.
  6. Redesign our financial and administrative models to reward collaboration, drive efficiencies, and strengthen our ability to provide access to an extraordinary education for all Minnesotans.

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Curriculum Architecture: Part 2

Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Series

This is the second post in the series on Academic Strategic Enrollment Management.

An institution’s curriculum architecture defines the essential components of its curricular system; maps the interrelationships between the components and the environment, and specifies the system’s intended learning and award outcomes. Put simply, the curriculum architecture synthesizes the many institution-specific design and delivery decisions inherent in curriculum management.

Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Principle 3: Strategic Curriculum Architecture

The objective of the concept of strategic architecture is to align curriculum with the realities of the emerging global learning marketplace. It must have a deep digital footprints and strong social connectivity to ensure that it drives the academic portfolios strategic position in the learning marketplace. A full articulation and discussion of strategic curriculum architecture is beyond the scope of a blog post. We will focus in this post on establishing a foundation understanding of what the architecture is and how it underpins enrollment management.

A curriculum architecture is defined by four underlying domains:

  1. Programs of Study
    The taxonomy of degrees, certificates, sequences, courses, modules, and learning objects within a school’s curriculum inventory defines the primary design feature of the school. This domain anchors the architecture, shifts attention to outcomes and program-based design elements, and, thereby, facilitates the alignment of the academic master planning process with other institutional processes.
  2. Authentications
    This domain details accrediting, licensing, and assessment oversight organizations, the units warranted, and related specifications. In doing so, the architecture incorporates the School’s accreditation and outcomes assessment planning processes.
  3. Delivery and Learner Access Strategies
    This domain tracks program term parameters, schedule model parameters, delivery modes, facilities implications and other delivery specifications.
  4. Business Model Variables
    This domain specifies the human resource specifications, instructional and non-instructional funding, and other resource specifications required to deliver the curriculum.

The fundamentals of allocating a series of learning experiences by building and delivering the curriculum is achieved through the structure of the curriculums architecture. An institution’s curriculum architecture defines the essential components of its curricular system; maps the interrelationships between the components and the environment, and specifies the system’s intended learning and award outcomes. Put simply, the curriculum architecture synthesizes the many institution-specific design and delivery decisions inherent in curriculum management. The architecture defines the curriculum system used by the institution.

A Systems View

Any curriculum system facilitates learning content being conceptualized, designed, assessed, packaged, managed and delivered to the learner. All curricular systems have certain characteristics. For example:

  1. All curricula reside within an institutional or organizational context defined by the mission of the organization in which it resides, the stakeholders who shape that mission, and their vision of where the institution is going and how it is to evolve.
  2. All curricula result in outcomes, in other words, they have a tangible and often intangible impact upon those that engage it. The outcomes may be expected or unexpected; they may be intended or unintended; they may be measurable or difficult to ascertain.
  3. All curricula reside within an economic reality that defines opportunities and constraints. It may be a stable, adequate, inadequate, growing, shrinking, or in a state of flux. The economic realities shape a great deal of what the curriculum is and how it is delivered.
  4. All curricula have an architecture either both well-defined and articulated or defacto having evolved over time. By architecture, we mean that all curricula have a defined structure that fits many parts together. Each identified part exists within the defined structure of the system and plays a specific role in the overall function of the system.
  5. The sum of these characteristics helps define a curriculum’s system architecture.

Defining a Curriculums Architecture

A curriculum architecture has an inherent structure. The first task is to identify and describe common structural elements that contribute to or make up a curriculums architecture.

Curriculum Architecture


Includes the influence of various institutional, school, college department, and discipline missions on the structure and content of the curriculum. These provide the context of the fundamental purpose of the institution. Mission (and vision for that matter) is translated into curriculum by focusing upon seven interrelated questions.

  1. What is the demographics of the learners an institution seeks to serve?
  2. What objectives do those learners seek to achieve?
  3. What learning opportunities are available from the global learning environment?
  4. What teaching and learning methods are available to help specific learners, seeking specific objectives, within a competitive learning marketplace achieve their intended learning outcomes.
  5. What is the overall curriculum architecture of the institution being evaluated?
  6. What is the configuration of a specific curriculum being selected?
  7. What learner services are necessary to enable the learner to complete the selected curriculum successfully?

These seven structured questions provide a framework for helping to translate an institutions mission into curriculum. And conversely they provide a framework with which to evaluate institutional mission through the curriculum lens. They are also a very effective framework to form Strategic enrollment Management Strategies.

Vision Influence

The influence of various institutional, school, college, department, discipline visions on the structure and content of the curriculum. From an entities (school, college, department, discipline) vision emerges its trajectory (where it is plotting to go) in the near, mid, and long term future. The curriculums architecture must enable sustaining a trajectory.

Academic Philosophy

The influence of various academic philosophies such as liberal arts licensed professional, scholar/practitioner, and accreditation aligned, on the structure and content of the curriculum. A philosophy provides the root of the values structure held by the academic community. Multiple philosophies are common in an institution. Discretely identifying and defining them helps enormously in developing and implementing conflict resolution strategies.


The scope of the curriculum establishes the various levels, credential categories, discipline array, credit and non-credit mix, and such intellectual elements as the role of research. Attention to scope is important because the opportunistic nature of the curriculum often induces scope creep (the slow expansion of the scope without questioning ‘do we really want to go there’). A curriculums scope provides both focus and boundaries that are important as other non-academic entities align with the academic enterprise. Online is an excellent example of an initiative emanating from deployment strategies that can seriously induce scope creep.

Academic Organizational Design

Organizational design includes but means more than just the academic organizations structure. The design also includes the functional components of the curriculum itself such as the hierarchy of the curriculum as reflected in the relationships between University ↔ College ↔ Department ↔ Program ↔ Course ↔ Module ↔ Reusable Learning Object. Such academic structures require a deep look for how they align and support the overall curriculums architecture. Failure to identify and formally define the basic elements of the academic organization leads to deep and damaging confusion to how effectively the curriculum functions.

Programs of Study

The architecture is shaped by the influence of specific content, curricular sequences, program and course outcomes and learning objectives on the design and configuration of individual programs. The program of study provides a crisp learner-centered view of the learning pathways taken to achieve specific credentials and outcomes. A common method of developing, displaying and reviewing programs of study is helpful in conveying the specific management criteria for the curriculum as a whole.

Teaching and Learning Methods and Strategies

The influence of various teaching and learning methods and strategies on the structure and content of the curriculum cannot be over emphasized. As curriculum is designed, developed, and implemented they are either enabled or inhibited by the curriculums architecture. Formally considering their influence is imperative as we look to the future.

Accreditations, Authentications, and Assessment Strategies

The influence that various accreditation standards, licensing requirements, assessment requirements, federal and state curricular regulations has on the structure and content of the curriculum must be accommodated in the architecture.

Configuration and Deployment Strategies

The influence of various deployment strategies such as the face-to-face, online, satellite facility, laptop university, (host of others) on the structure and content of the curriculum is important. Basic structures like scheduling model, academic calendar configurations, pricing and packaging strategies are essential to establishing a curriculum architecture that meets the needs of the learners to be served.

Business Models Strategies

The influence of the various ways curricula is packaged, marketed, delivered and consumed on the structure and content of the curriculum must be considered in the design of the overall structure. The business interface is as important as the learning interface in the overall design. Strategies such as pricing, content access and control, assessment integrity, learner transcripts, and a host of others must be aligned and accommodated within the business models used.

In Closing

We have mapped within this post the basics of what curriculum architecture includes. Before developing or applying any tools or methods it is important to frame the entire concept of Academic Strategic Enrollment Management. Next we will explore some of the concepts around Learner-Centered approaches to curriculum.

Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework: Part 3

“Its the Curriculum Stupid”: Part 1

Academic Strategy: Curriculum Driven Facility Optimization

MGDA specializes in strategic analysis guiding fundamental academic decisions that optimize resources, facilities, and revenue potential leading to increased margin. This type of analysis is particularly valuable when building a new University where there is no campus history, no patterns to accommodate, and not reference points to use to develop specifications. The simplest form of data one could use (and many do) is to just look at an existing institution about the size and clone it. There a number of reasons this is not advisable, some examples include:

  1. The current paradigm shift to a digital learning ecosystem is changing room utilization use patterns, room configuration requirements, capacity and technology requirements.
  2. Without some optimization analysis, low utilization artifacts can continue unrecognized and unabated.
  3. There are multiple sources of sub optimization. Low schedule utilization, inappropriate course or pedagogy for a room configuration, disruption of optimum schedule, …

To illustrate the magnitude of difference between optimization scenarios we offer the following real world example from our client experience.

Comparative Analysis Comprehensive University

MGDA assessed the curriculum of a comprehensive university and analyzed four growth scenarios and their impact on academic facility space. The university is committed to double its size and grow from its current 20,000 student enrollment to 40,000 students. This summary table shows the total room count across all 82 Programs of Study. The blue columns show total room counts at 20K enrollment, the orange shows the count at 30K enrollments and the grey columns show rooms required at 40K enrollment.

Room Count Comparison by Scenario and Schedule Model (Chart)

The Room Count by Scenario and Schedule Model chart is very revealing. Academic administrators and facility managers will immediately recognize very different perspectives and beliefs reflected in the scenarios and the politics of the institution. In the end funding agencies required some assessment of room utilization possible and an unambiguous and impartial view of capacity. The chart shows actual room counts by stage of enrollment growth for each of four facility ownership scenarios.

Focus on Value: Part 2


For decades higher education as flown the banner of the value of a college degree when assessing the earning potential over the life of the learner. David Leonhardt in his column in the New York Times (May 27, 2014) Everyday Economics asked “Is College Worth It? Clearly, New Data Say

Some newly minted college graduates struggle to find work. Others accept jobs for which they feel overqualified. Student debt, meanwhile, has topped $1 trillion. It’s enough to create a wave of questions about whether a college education is still worth it.A new set of income statistics answers those questions quite clearly: Yes, college is worth it, and it’s not even close. For all the struggles that many young college graduates face, a four-year degree has probably never been more valuable.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics track and publish data illuminating the differential that education attainment provides in both earnings and employment. The data is both compelling and has been consistent over the years.


But is this sufficient to warrant a trillion dollars in student debt, or compete against infrastructure and social needs for public funds. Higher Education leaders and advocates must take great caution in relying on this argument as a sole response to demands for accountability, responsiveness and value-added. There are many ways to strengthen and deepen this fundamental value equation. One example is to focus upon the relationship between curriculum and to develop the talent that advances responses and solutions to global issues, opportunities, and the effects of the paradigm shift.

For example curriculum such as programs in digital film, fraud and forensics, game art and design, optimizing social media, high performance learning, environmental chemistry, project management, performance optimization, or global commerce position curriculum to support existing and emerging communities of practice that are tightly coupled to opportunities. They also all provide a very powerful framework for a strong liberal arts foundation that is highly contextualized in contemporary frames of reference.

Higher education and learning environments continue to develop and are transforming the global learning ecosystem. For a look into the future from a different perspective visit Thomas Frey’s Blog for a peak at 162 Future Jobs: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Yet Exist.

Jobs are a focus many academics find alienating as a frame of reference for understanding the value of an education. For a great portion of the population they help contextualize the investment in learning with a proposition for a return on that investment in a tangible career thereby substantiating the broad statistic of earnings over their lifetime. More to the point, in addition to the intrinsic value of a degree, institutions must build an institutional/programmatic value equation for prospective students and their families to consider while they are engaging in the process of deciding where to go to college. The equation must have the full power of the curriculum and emanate from the strategic and academic plans behind them and they must be warranted by a comprehensive assessment process. This requires a systematic, cohesive structured value equation for curricula, research, and the contribution that educational experiences have on each learner striving to optimize their own economic health, quality of life, and future.

Where does one begin? At the start of the Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Series I paraphrase the Clinton/Carville 1992 quote by asserting “It’s the curriculum stupid!” This focuses attention on the perceived and actual value of the curricular/learning experience provided to a learner in exchange for resources. If all curriculum is perceived to be of equal value, such as in a commodity (subject of another blog post), and the only variable is the price, what is the competitive strength of any given institutions curriculum. Don’t be fooled by the draw of premium brands such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale … these operate in a different competitive structure than the rest.

The concept of focusing upon value is multifaceted. Value immediately conjures up the notion of cost-benefit analysis and most understand the concept fairly well, even if they choose to ignore it. Value is also highly contextualized to the individual or organization doing the valuing. When it comes to exchanging services for long commitments in time or large commitments in money the concept must be contextualized to the individual. Enrollment managers have understood this reality but it is more rare among academics. Focus on value means being able to demonstrate value and it is not a formula or slogan or marketing question but one of fundamental benefit from and engagement with a learning opportunity or pursuit of a credential.

For one it is a question of differentiation. Is one curriculum distinguishable from another.

Path Forward

  • Understand the concept of value to society and to the individual learner
  • Understand learner needs and realities
  • Understand accountability and the requirement to substantiate value
  • Build value into every program design
  • Build value into every learning experience
  • Prove value through assessment and strategic positioning strategies
  • Build a value based academic and administrative culture


  1. Substantiating and continuously enhancing real and perceived value through the academic experience.
  2. Differentiating the value of one credential from another as a competitive strategy. This is a difficult task in a world where credentials are viewed as commodities of basic equal value regardless of source.

In Closing

The purpose of this blog post was to raise the concept of developing real and perceived value by embedding the focus deeply in the strategic plan. Except named premium credential brands, price has become the number one issue and it very desperately needs to be balanced by the value of the credential and the experience. This requires evidence, proof if you will, that the many dimensions of value emanate from progress through the degree program. Platitudes are too often relied upon. What is needed is a coordinated cohesive effort to design, develop, and experience quality (not the my students love me type) within the academic program. To find it in the academic program it must first be in the strategic plan.

Note to reader: Follow our blog series and posts they will continue to develop this theme and provide insights, methods, suggestions, and opportunities to improve both real and perceived value in the academic program.

Develop Capacity: Part 3

Change the Paradigm: Part 1

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Releases 2014 Data for Education

Education at a Glance 2014

OECD Education at a Glance 2014

Annual Comparative International Data on Education

OECD released their annual data report September 9, 2014. It is the leading international compendium of comparable national statistics measuring the state of education worldwide. This year’s report includes new indicators that provide further evidence of the critical role that education and skills play in fostering social progress. These include the links between education levels and employment; educational attainment and social mobility; and trend data and analysis for all the key indicators.

The report also addresses: public and private spending on education; its social and economic benefits for people and economies; tuition fees; the outcomes of education based on an analysis of tertiary completion rates; and class sizes, teacher salaries and instruction times.

The report analyses the education systems of the 34 OECD member countries, as well as Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

The OECD Annual Release is a much anticipated event around international educational policy arenas. The amount of data is enormous and a bit daunting for those new to the organizations fundamental activities and purpose.  The chart below illustrates the type of data comparisons available from OECD and is the latest comparative data available. (as with any massive international data set they tend to be lagging a few years)

Chart B3.2. Distribution of public and private expenditure on educational institutions (2011 Data)


OECD 2014 Funding Share Distribution


About The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is a unique forum where the governments of 34 democracies with market economies work with each other, as well as with more than 70 non-member economies to promote economic growth, prosperity, and sustainable development. OECD member countries account for 59 percent of world GDP, three-quarters of world trade, 95 percent of world official development assistance, over half of the world’s energy consumption, and 18 percent of the world’s population. Together with its sister agencies, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), the OECD helps countries – both members and non-members – reap the benefits and confront the challenges of a global economy by promoting economic growth, free markets, efficient use of resources, and energy security.

International Students in Contemporary Context Insight from the U.K.

UK ImmigrationThe British public do not see international students as “immigrants” and are opposed to reducing the number coming here, even if this would make it harder to reduce immigration numbers, according to new research released today by Universities UK and think-tank British Future.

The government should instead remove international students from the net migration target and support and challenge universities to attract more international students to study here, the report argues.

The new research poses a challenge to the government as it seeks to keep its promise to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands”.  International students are the largest group of migrants from outside the EU counted in the government’s net migration figures, representing around a third of all people coming into Britain.

Yet only a fifth (22%) of people think of international students as “immigrants” at all.

Other findings include:

  • When people are told that students are part of the target, “the most common reaction is surprise and even bafflement that international students are classified as immigrants at all,” the report says.
  • New ICM polling conducted for the organisations finds that targeting international students would be unpopular and would fail to address public concerns about immigration. Six out of ten (59%) people say the government should not reduce the number of international students, even if this makes it harder to reduce immigration numbers. Only 22 per cent would support a reduction in international student numbers.
  • Among Conservative voters, the figure was even higher, with two-thirds (66%) of Tories opposed to a reduction in international student numbers, compared to just 23 per cent who would reduce international student numbers so as to get immigration numbers down.
  • The majority of people (75%) are in favour of allowing international students to stay on and work after they finish their degree. Support rises to 81% for Conservative voters.
  • Sixty per cent think international students bring money into the local economy, compared to only 12 per cent who think they are a net drain on the local economy.  Support rises to two-thirds (66%) of people living in university towns and nearly three quarters (72%) of Conservative voters.
  • Sixty-one per cent agree that Britain’s universities would have less funding to invest in top-quality facilities and teaching without the higher fees paid by international students. Only seven per cent disagree.

Download the study here.

MGD+A Launches New Website

MGDA PlatformMichael G. Dolence and Associates (MGD+A) is pleased to announce the launch of it’s new digital platform. The new platform features a blog-centric, content rich website integrating social media.   MGD+A is a consulting firm specializing in innovation in education and academic management consisting of more than 80 Associates who have served more than 800 clients worldwide since 1994. The new digital platform is an ideal method for engaging our extensive client base and professional communities of practice within the global higher education domain. The new digital platform went live September 6, 2014. To learn more about the new MGD+A new digital resources go to About Our Digital Resources.

We would like to thank our clients and associates who have reviewed and critiqued our beta development site. The centerpiece of our new digital communications platform is a new Blog-centric website built on WordPress and integrating our Social Networking initiatives.

Our launch features two new exciting Blog Series

Prototype a Learning Age Strategic Plan, focuses upon the design and development of a Prototype Strategic Plan for an Institution of Higher Education.

 Academic Strategic Enrollment Management, introduces principles and practices of a new community of practice that aligns academic planning and management with strategic enrollment management.

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