Science? What science? I know what I know.

Many have written about the systematic assault on science and reason. It comes largely but not exclusively from the right, including politicians and fundamentalists. Their reasons and methods vary but the result is the same: a conflation of expertise with elitism. And no one in this egalitarian nation wants to be considered elite.

What I have experienced in my classes is that a few students regard their opinions as worthy counters to research. I’ve recently posted some comments about learning styles, particularly the popular VARK (visual, aural, read/write, kinesthetic) or VAK (visual, audio, kinesthetic) schemes. My comments include references to research, which in general does not support either approach. My students often respond with their opinions, which are often supportive of VARK and other ways of thinking about learning styles, but devoid of any empirical support. When asked for empirical support, the response is often some variety of, It just seems to make sense; Or, Everybody knows learning styles are useful predictors.

There is a useful takeaway from the learning styles conversation. It’s that in general learning is enhanced when we use multiple senses or media. That is, people learn better from images and verbal content than from either alone. That’s based on Mayer’s Multimedia research, for which there is a lot of useful data. And it’s based on Paivio’s dual coding theory. But it’s not an individual thing, as the learning styles people presume. It’s a generalization that applies to most learners.

As educators, our responsibility is to make decisions based on evidence. There are different kinds of evidence, of course. But for questions amenable to empirical research, that’s the standard we look to. Our opinions, or common sense, are valuable. But we look to better evidence when we can.

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