BBC Perpetuates Learning Styles Myth – an update

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My last blog bemoaned the use of Learning Styles in a BBC iWonder blog, following on from a ‘One Show’ item on memory and learning.

I submitted a complaint to the BBC. The complaint form limited how much detail could be given but my complaint as sent in was as follows:

Complaint Summary: Misleading information on Learning Styles

Full Complaint: In education we are fighting hard to dispel the myth of learning styles (LS).The reality is that there is no such thing! People may describe or provide a ‘preference’ but research shows that this in no way aids their learning. Pashler et al (2008) state: “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the LS approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing… it remains to be demonstrated.” Riener &Willingham (2010) “students may have preferences about how to learn, but no evidence suggests that catering to those preferences will lead to better learning” Coffield (2004) also concluded that there is a dearth of rigorously controlled experiments and longitudinal studies to test the claims of supporters. Henry (2007) Susan Greenfield: “After more than 30 years of educational research in to LS there is no independent evidence that VAK or indeed any other LS inventory, has any direct educational benefits.” References Coffield, F. et al (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. Learning and Skills Research Centre Henry, J. (2007) Professor pans ‘learning style’ teaching Daily Telegraph Pashler H et al (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science,9(3) Riener, C., & Willingham, D. (2010). The myth of learning styles. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning. Please consider removing this section from the website.

I have now received a reply from the BBC in relation to this complaint. It is not as I had hoped (unsurprisingly), an agreement to remove the section in question.

Dear Mr Williams

Thank you for taking the time to share your comment with us. We value your opinion and we’ll review the ‘Live and learn’ step in the iWonder guide in question. (my emphasis)

Our aim was to explore different learning techniques and not say definitively that people will be able to learn information by using a specific style.

The section you mentioned was the opinion of a chartered clinical psychologist working in neurology, and was clearly stated as such. We are therefore happy for it to remain as part of the guide. (my emphasis) We appreciate that there may not be unanimous consensus among scientists and educationalists.

BBC iWonder team

So, the outcome is that the Learning styles section will remain, but that they will ‘review it’. The review simply adds, at the end of the item, the following statement:

Not everyone agrees with the idea that an individual has one specific learning style, particularly within the education sector. Some believe that people learn through a mix of styles and apply different techniques depending on what information they want to learn.

I find it disappointing that hard evidence to the contrary is ‘over-ruled’ by the ‘opinion’ of one clinical psychologist. I’m pleased that they have put in the statement, but feel it should be at the top of the piece, not at the end.

Dr Jess Quirke, the clinical psychologist in question, submitted her doctoral thesis in 2007 on Psychological adjustment through the epilepsy surgery process. I have been unable to find out more about her online or why she was the best person to advise on this aspect of learning.


One thought on “BBC Perpetuates Learning Styles Myth – an update

    teachingbattleground said:
    June 4, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

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