Coffield et al – Critique of Learning Styles
Coffield and his team of researchers investigated top 13 of the 71 learning style theories including its theoretical basis and origin, and its instrument.
Learning styles summarizes the concept that individuals have different ways and preferences of learning. The idea has been hugely popular and has enjoyed wide acceptance since four decades (Sims & Sims 2006). Extensive studies have been carried out on the psychometrics properties of the learning styles’ tools, its relationship with academic performance in general and in different disciples (Coffield; Kolb & Kolb, 2005; Wilson & Hill, 1994).
However, reviews by several researchers on a number of learning styles theories such as Dunn & Price LSI and Kolb’s LSI (Coffield, Moseley, Hall & Ecclestone, 2004) that have been developed to measure the learning preferences are insufficient to truly measure what it is. 3 main weaknesses noted were that the learning styles measures were confusing as in their definition, weak in reliability and validity of the measurement, and identification of traits in learners.
Togo and Baldwin (1990) who found no significant differences in students’ performance and learning style in Accounting disciple also argued that although it might be somewhat relevant, there is not much solid ground.
Research done by Coffield
Coffield and his team of researchers (Coffield et al. 2004) investigated top 13 of the 71 learning style theories including its theoretical basis and origin, and its instrument. They also studied conclusions given by the researcher, and those given by other researchers testing the respective theories. The team also built an independent study to investigate empirical evidence of a relationship between the learning style (as per the instrument) and students’ learning aptitude.
The variables studied are: origins and influence; definition, description and scope of the learning style instrument; measurement by authors; description of instrument; reliability and validity; external evaluation reliability and validity; general implications for pedagogy empirical; evidence for pedagogical impact.
It was concluded that none of the learning style theories have adequate validation when done through independent research. The whole notion of having a link between visual, auditory, and physical preference for a certain learning style, and the dependence of performance on learning style and teaching method is all non-conclusive and raises a lot of doubts. The thirteen Learning Style Instruments (LSI) under study were:
- Allinson and Hayes’ Cognitive Styles Index (CSI)
- Apter’s Motivational Style Profile (MSP)
- Dunn and Dunn model and instruments of learning styles
- Entwistle’s Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (ASSIST)
- Gregorc’s Mind Styles Model and Style Delineator (GSD)
- Herrmann’s Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI)
- Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles Questionnaire (LSQ)
- Jackson’s Learning Styles Profiler (LSP)
- Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory (LSI)
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
- Riding’s Cognitive Styles Analysis (CSA)
- Sternberg’s Thinking Styles Inventory (TSI)
- Vermunt’s Inventory of Learning Styles (ILS).
In his book, Coffield argues that the research field of learning styles is both extensive and conceptually confusing. In a review of the psychometric qualities of different learning styles instruments, Curry (1987) categorised different research approaches. These were: ‘instructional preferences’, ‘information processing styles’ and ‘cognitive styles’.
Some of the models reviewed, such as the Dunn and Dunn learning styles model, combine traits which the authors believe to be fixed with traits that are easy to modify. Others, such as those by Vermunt (1998) and Entwistle (1998), combine relatively stable cognitive styles with strategies and processes that can be modified by teachers, the design of the curriculum, assessment of the course, and policy of the institution.
Out of the 13 LSI, there is a list of models that Coffield et al. considered well established:
- The Allinson and Hayes’ Cognitive Style Index has the highest psychometric credentials.
- Entwistle’s Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (ASSIST) is sound as a basis for discussing effective/ineffective strategies for learning and for suggesting students’ approaches.
- Herrmann: his ‘whole brain’ model is suitable for use with learners as well as with teachers and managers, since it is intended to shed light on group dynamics as well as to encourage awareness and understanding of self and others.
- Vermunt: his Inventory of Learning Styles (ILS) can be used to assess approaches to learning reliably and validly, and to engage with students and understand changes in learning and teaching (2004).
Source: Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E. and Ecclestone, K. (2004). Is there a role for learning styles in personalised education and training?: International Journal of Lifelong Education: Vol 24, No 3. [online]
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