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Learning Modalities | Nicholas Meier
"There is a common belief in education that knowing one’s, or one’s students’, preferred learning modality is important or at least helpful in designing learning strategies for ourselves or them. When I do a search of learning modalities I find dozens of articles in educational journals about how to use this information and why it is important. The interesting thing is that the empirical evidence does not support the claim, despite its popularity. And this lack of support is not for lack of investigation.

First I want to be clear on what learning modalities are and are not. They are basically the receptive modes of taking in the world, of learning—most commonly aural (hearing,), visual (seeing), and kinesthetic (feeling, touching). These are not to be confused with learning styles (of which there are many versions) such as field dependent or independent, liking to work alone or with others, risk-avoidant or risk-taker, introverted, extroverted. Nor is it to be confused with Gardner’s seven or eight Intelligences, which are ways of understanding, and really more the active side than the receptive side.

We believe in our modality preference for the same reason humans believe many things that are not true. It just seems so intuitively true. We all have a sense of how we best take in information. Also, it is so often repeated – and even accepted by experts – that it must be true. There are lots of tests designed by psychologists to measure this and help you figure out your strength. When I first took psychology in the 1980s this dichotomy between the common sense belief and the evidence was pointed out by one of my professors. Even then it had been studied and found to be false. In the 30 years since then, the literature has continued to pour out on how to teach to modalities, and the evidence that such teaching does not actually enhance learning has also continued, and continued to be ignored by the practitioner side of the field. Special education teachers might say, “Well true for regular education, but in special education these differences are real.” However, most of the research is with special education (as are most of the advise articles), and it is just as false in special education as in regular education.

It is a fact that in humans it is the visual area of the brain that is really the biggest—it is just the way that humans have evolved to take in the world. This is true of everyone unless they are blind or brain damaged in some way. As social beings, however, we also interact with other humans to a large extent though hearing. It is our verbal communication with others that to a large extent fulfills our social needs. Many people claim that, although sight is more central to our taking in the word, being deaf is worse, because it isolates us more than blindness.

And whenever I ask about how people like to learn (not meaning modalities) virtually everyone says “Oh, I’m one of those people that needs to be active.” We are all kinesthetic, we all learn though doing, touching. And again, the humans have evolved to actually need, desire, touch. There is a famous experiment where a baby monkey will choose the artificial mother that provides soft embrace to the one that provides milk.

What I have discussed is that all of these modalities are central to being human. What the research has shown is that when you use all modalities all learners learn better! This is really a boon for teachers, since instead of feeling like you need to test each of your students for their strengths and then designing separate lessons for each type learner, now what you are best off doing is designing lessons that utilize all modalities. The more modalities you use, the more all students will do better. For all students relying on just one or two is exactly that—less.

I give the example of my getting directions. I could just hear it (or read it) (auditory) “Turn right here, turn left there….” Or I cold look at on a map (visual). But getting both helps me remember it even better. And then what I like to do, to really get it down pat, is stand up and point the direction of each turn, in turn, maybe even turning my body as well, as I go over it (kinesthetic).

So take heart, the truth in this case makes out teaching easier, not harder.

As the author of the textbook I am using for my current course on learning theory puts it, “These differences can be reliably measured, but research has not identified the effects of teaching to these styles; certainly presenting information in multiple modalities might be useful” (p.129)."
nicholasmeier  learning  howwelearn  modalities  learningmodalities  learningstyles  howardgardner  multipleintelligences  humans  2015 
march 2015 by robertogreco

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