Learning Styles vs. IntroversionPosted: August 5, 2013
I’ve just finished reading Susan Cain’s Quiet, which is a must-read for anyone in instructional design. (And by must-read I don’t mean you should read it because you will like it, but that you should read it because to not read it would be negligent: this book will open your eyes to an educational system increasingly demanding extroversion for success).
There’s a lot of thoughts swirling around my head right now, but one of the more interesting ones is this: why have we wasted so much time talking about learning styles (which don’t seem to matter much in practice with success at classroom activity) and made so little time for talking about the introversion/extroversion spectrum of personality, which seems, in my experience at least, to matter quite a lot?
I’m going to guess it’s because there’s money in coming up with Netflixy learning styles solutions, but there’s not much in deconstructing the assumptions inherent in group work. Other ideas?
Giulia F. takes me to task for simplifying the learning styles issue. I agree! I’ve written about this issue with more subtlety before, and was rushing to get this post done before my morning commute. In any case here is my response to Giulia:
Thanks Giulia — I often speak in a shorthand about learning styles that doesn’t always capture the complexity of the issue (witness the amazingly convoluted sentence at about them in this post). I believe, in fact, that my position on the subject is somewhat closer to Kolb’s, who I seem to remember saying at one point that of course reading literature was going to require one set of preference-independent skills and doing math another. And that’s largely the rub — the impact of those authentic barriers tends to outweigh the impact of our arbitrary ones.
That doesn’t mean that we should not address the arbitrary barriers, but that the way in which this has been presented and implemented has been just this side of astrology in many cases. The focus on “styles” trivializes deeper issues that students are having engaging with the course. We can’t deal with these issues without a fundamental rethink about what education is about.
So I agree that what we really need when we look at both accessibility and these issues of introversion and “styles” is a universal design approach. And the issue becomes how we accommodate multiple routes to participation while both incorporating smart design based on research and while preventing the complete fracturing of the educational community we are attempting to build around a common experience.
Online approaches, from the earliest Usenet groups to the latest cMOOC or ds106 experience, have some lessons for us there. And, admittedly, display some blind spots as well. I didn’t post my massive post on what universal access looks like on the intro/extro-version spectrum, but the upshot is that if you imagine a workplace that values the work of both introverts and extroverts that you can work back pretty directly to a model for teaching. I hope to cover that in a future, meatier post.