Don't be a fashion victim

23rd May 2014 at 01:00

Can we all just shut up about learning styles? The conversation has been had, over and over and over again. I am bored with it.

But here I am, writing about it again. Oh. Never mind, I'll press on.

Let's recap: in days of yore we believed that making students answer a stream of simplistic questions to determine the singular way in which they would best imbibe all future knowledge seemed.not bonkers.

An industry grew up, furnishing us with bits of resource-tat to support the idea that everyone needed to be classified as either visual, auditory or kinaesthetic (VAK) learners. Some crazy cats broadened the offer with an additional option of "read-write", but for the most part it was VAK or the highway.

Then we saw the light. It occurred to us that slapping a label on a student, categorising the style in which that individual learned to the exclusion of all other methods, might be at best limiting and at worst damaging.

So we quietly popped the idea in the box marked "what were we thinking?" and facepalmed ourselves back to a world where even students were complex, multifaceted human beings. The thing is, not everyone got the memo.

A colleague at another college has recently come to the end of his tether with teaching. More specifically, he has lost patience with the relentless cascade of poorly researched teaching requirements.

In spite of the concept being almost universally rubbished, the staff at his place of work are having to soldier on with labelling and assessment in terms of learning styles. The reason? Whisper it: Ofsted. Apparently, Her Majesty's Inspectorate demands information on the subject.

As much as I recognise that Ofsted doesn't necessarily make life a rose-scented breeze, the body seems increasingly to be used as an excuse to rationalise any rule that cannot otherwise be justified.

To my mind there are two possible reasons for this happening. One is that the communication has become distorted into nonsense on the journey through multiple layers of hierarchy from them-up-top to us-down-below. The other is that them-up-top haven't properly read the inspectorate rule book and are grasping at any learning technique as though in a frenzied educational-theory trolley dash.

There is a third option, which is almost too depressing to consider. Could the people who perch at the apex of college teaching and learning structures be so out of touch with theory and practice that their ability to make decisions to actually improve the experience of teachers and learners must be questioned?

So, fellow teachers, trainers, tutors, lecturers and assessors, here's what I suggest: arm yourself with the truth. Read Ofsted's handbook, especially if you've got a visit looming. Every time you are told "because Ofsted says so", retrieve the tome and ask to be directed to where it is written.

The truth will set you free. Or at the very least stop you faffing about with VAK learning styles.

Sarah Simons works in a large further education college in Mansfield

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