VAK aint my bag

A lot of tweeting concerning learning styles going on. I mean, a lot. Clearly learning styles are cobblers. I haven’t given them any thought since my PGCE year and even then they seemed sort of bolted on to pedagogy, as I recall.

Besides anything else about evidence, effect sizes, control groups and all the rest, two things have always struck me about the narrow VAK(uous) notion:

1.Students are likely to buy into it – and mostly categorise (or have been diagnosed (ho ho ho)) themselves as ‘visual’, which is interpreted by them as pretty pictures and colours – usually moving in mesmerising animation (like a fruit machine). A book is visual, of course, but hardly ever will a self-professed ‘visual learner’ claim they need to read in order to learn.

Thus, when a student states they are “a visual learner” to me, I blink, nod slowly, then stare into the distance, zoning out auditorily, while waiting for the ensuing chats about VAK-styles to subside.

2.Even if there were some truth to this stuff about learning styles, it’s fairly obvious that in learning people should be stretched out of comfort zones in order to challenge their pre-existing patterns of behaviour and activity. If students like watching videos all the time because it helps them to understand things, then the last thing they need in an environment supposed to be stimulating is to watch videos.

Learners obviously need diversity in learning activity. The same goes for learning technologies, of course. All very well, but sometimes switch it off. Doing continually unexpected – rather than repetitive – activities is surely the stimulas approach to take. Why  always resort to a particular method or style?  Of course, learning tech is rich in diversity, but in itself it can be put aside from time to time.

Funnily enough (and by the by) as I teach the re-sit English course with very, very disengaged students, one thing I’ve recently noticed is the willingness of their majority to do so-called old-fashioned, Social Cognitivist ideas. They adopt need-to-know attitudes, rather than the ‘why bother‘ masks they wear when trying to discuss the nuances of meaning in poetry. What I’ve regarded as ‘filler-activities’ suddenly become focused on. I expected groans of apathy when I mentioned we were doing grammar.

Actually, such reproduction exercises including: spelling tests (students seem to really enjoy these), diction (seriously), or reading around the room and straight-up, front-of-room, fill-in-the-blanks Grammar from the board, showing proper control of relative pronouns, correct uses of commas, subordinate clauses and all that nutritonal stuff..all have proved engaging without any styles claims being used to swerve work.

I think that’s the issue with ‘learner style’; it’s a license for denial and has – in the past – been pulled out of the bag when I’ve suggested we do, say, collaborative editing or textual analysis. I suppose its because style is just too personal; anytime you don’t fancy doing something you can resist with a ‘Not my style’.

For me, some ‘not my styles’ include golf (visually or kinesthetically), shopping centres (mainly kinesthetically…nope, in all respects come to think of it), Radios 1 and 2 (auditory), Selfies (visually – mainly because my mug never gets invited in on any), chain pubs (in any respect), all-you-can-eat buffets (ditto), and lukewarm or sugary tea…which isn’t of any the categories, so that seals it: VAK is wack.

 

 

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