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.

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

Mission

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.

Scope

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