6. Every learner is different

Designing blended solutions
In postings 1-5, I outlined a simple process for designing blended solutions that are both efficient and effective: analysing the unique characteristics of the situation in which the solution is to be deployed; selecting the right blend of methods to meet the needs of the situation; and determining the delivery media best suited to these methods.
I started with the first step in the process – analysing the situation. This stage comes first because the information that we gather informs every one of our design decisions. I explained that situation analysis has three elements, which can be described quite simply as the three L’s – the learning, the learners and the logistics. Last week, I concentrated on the learning. This week I’m going to address learners and logistics.
Every learner is different
There’s a lot of talk in learning and development circles about learning styles, which are supposed to help teachers and designers of learning experiences to adapt their work to reflect the characteristics of different types of learners. This seems a reasonable endeavour until you reflect on the fact (I walked into that – because now I’m labelled a ‘reflector’) that there are literally hundreds of competitive models, which cannot, of course, all be right, and not one of these has come through any critical test of its validity.
The Association of Psychological Science concluded that: ‘There is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.’ And in the UK, a review by The Learning and Skills Research Centre found the various theories ‘seriously wanting’ and with ‘serious deficiencies’. Many were downright dangerous as they ‘over-simplify, label and stereotype’. Donald Cark has reviewed this research in some detail in his blog Plan B.
The fact that we have yet to find a reliable way to categorise learners, does not reduce the need for a learner-centred approach to design or for empathetic teaching. As Dr John Medina makes clear in Brain Rules, every one of the world’s seven billion inhabitants is different:
“What you do in life physically changes what your brain looks like.”
“Our brains are so sensitive to external inputs that their physical wiring depends upon the culture in which they find themselves.”
“Learning results in physical changes to the brain and these changes are unique to each individual.”
Interesting as all this is, I’m not sure it takes us that far in terms of the big decisions we have to make when designing a blended solution. From my experience there are two learner characteristics that are far more influential than learning preferences. One is the extent of their prior learning, and the other is their motivation to learn about the subject in question.
Next up: The importance of prior learning