It always boils down to the evidence…

What good is research if the results are not valid?  OK, “valid” is used rather ambiguous here.  According to Wikipedia’s definition of validity:

[research] is valid if and only if its conclusion is entailed by its premises, a formula is valid if and only if it is true under every interpretation, and an argument form (or schema) is valid if and only if every argument of that logical form is valid.

In my field, there is constant discussion about if IDr’s should take individual learning styles into consideration when designing an instructional event. Perhaps we should all have an increased awareness of learning styles so that teachers can take them into account when designing, developing, and delivering instruction? Take this comic for example:


Yes an increased awareness of learning styles would lead to a wider range of teaching methods to use… BUT NOT MUCH ELSE… as opposed to helping students to learn more effectively.

Over the years as learning styles have been researched, there is still has yet to be some valid evidence proving that they exist and/or that they should be used to influence the design of instruction. But why is the research not valid? Let’s go back to 6th grade science for a moment with the steps of the scientific method:

  1. Define the question
  2. Gather information and resources (observe)
  3. Form hypothesis
  4. Perform experiment and collect data
  5. Analyze data
  6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
  7. Publish results
  8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

The problem always lies with #4, “perform the experiment and collect data” or the methods section of the research paper that we are all familiar with. This is because so much has to be controlled in this step just so that you can get any sort of usable falsifiable evidence. If it is not falsifiable, then what is it? It is definitely not generalizable to other situations! Isn’t that what research is for?

Check out Education: Learning Styles Debunked on ScienceDaily (2009):

Nearly all of the studies that purport to provide evidence for learning styles fail to satisfy key criteria for scientific validity. Any experiment designed to test the learning-styles hypothesis would need to classify learners into categories and then randomly assign the learners to use one of several different learning methods, and the participants would need to take the same test at the end of the experiment. If there is truth to the idea that learning styles and teaching styles should mesh, then learners with a given style, say visual-spatial, should learn better with instruction that meshes with that style. The authors found that of the very large number of studies claiming to support the learning-styles hypothesis, very few used this type of research design. Of those that did, some provided evidence flatly contradictory to this meshing hypothesis, and the few findings in line with the meshing idea did not assess popular learning-style schemes.

To conclude, it always boils down to the evidence. What does the evidence actually show? Without controlling the experiment and eliminating confounding variables then all your research is essentially doing is providing a narrative of what was done in a classroom, or a lab, etc. The public needs falsification—if you do this, then this will happen.

In terms of learning styles and instructional design, if you take provide an instructional event this way for your auditory learners then … what evidence can you show proving that they learned more effectively because they received specialized auditory instruction?

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About DaveHallmon

With experience in web, graphic, and instructional design, Dave maintains a balance between what is efficient and effective in every message. He always focuses on the why and how rather than "just doing it" to get the job done. By day he works at a leading university designing online courses that support 9,000 students in 64 countries. He works directly with faculty to brainstorm, design, and develop their online instruction utilizing the Adobe suite. He also teaches for the university as an adjunct faculty member in the area of web design. By night he is a devoted husband, father, freelancer, and adventurer of the outdoors. His other interests include LifeHacker, Science Fiction and Hayao Miyazaki movies, Settlers of Catan, and coffee with friends. He currently lives in St. Louis and has an M.S. in Instructional Design and aspires to pursue a professional degree in content marketing and strategy. Visit the links below for more information about his interests and design work.
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