Learning Styles Challenge — Three-Year Update

UPDATE 2014: I’ve been joined by others. Reward is up to $5,000. Click here to see the latest challenge.

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 Original Post 2009:

It has been over three years since I offered $1,000 to anyone who could
demonstrate that utilizing learning styles improved learning outcomes. Click here for the original challenge.

So far, no one has even come close.

For all the talk about learning styles over the last 15 years, we might expect that I was at risk of quickly losing my money.

Let me be clear, my argument is not that people don’t have different
learning styles, learning preferences, or learning skills. My argument
is that for real-world instructional-development situations, learning
styles is an ineffective and inefficient waste of resources that is
unlikely to produce meaningful results.

Let me leave you with the original challenge:

“Can an e-learning program that utilizes learning-style information
outperform an e-learning program that doesn’t utilize such information
by 10% or more on a realistic test of learning, even it is allowed to
cost up to twice as much to build?”

The challenge is still on.

7 replies
  1. Stephen Downes
    Stephen Downes says:

    The problem isn’t learning styles. The problem is that nobody could possibly satisfy the conditions of your contest.
    For example, “The learning-style program must be created in an instructional-development shop that is dedicated to creating learning programs for real-world use. Programs developed only for research purposes are excluded.”
    That rules out pretty much 99.99 percent of the world.

  2. Will Thalheimer
    Will Thalheimer says:

    Stephen,
    No. That’s not true. Let me be clear. I’m skeptical that a real-world e-learning shop could create an e-learning program that utilizes learning styles. I don’t think it’s practically feasible. I don’t think clients will pay for the extra diagnostics, the extra development costs, and the extra threats to people’s personal privacy (because of the diagnostics). So, I want to specifically exclude programs that are created for academic purposes only. I want to exclude programs that are just created for research purposes—that have no other commercial purposes.
    I would bet that over 90% of e-learning programs that are developed today are developed because the developer expects to get some sort of compensation for those programs. That’s a lot of programs that would meet the criteria for inclusion.

  3. Diane Des Rochers
    Diane Des Rochers says:

    Speaking of waste of resources, there is a linguering statement in our Evaluation CoP that holds that transfer of learning is more than 40% related to pre training conditions, less than 20% to training and more than 40% to post conditions (Robert O. Brinkerhoff of ASTD) . Though, it seems to make sense, the thought that follows is that it is a waste of resources to make changes to a training program, redirect its objectives or even bother with testing since its impact on transfer is negligible (others saying less than 12%). I still feel that, if performance gap is not bridged, cutting also any nice to know, orienting the objectives on the tasks and asking recall questions instead of reviews is worth the tweaking time. What do you think ?

  4. Julian King
    Julian King says:

    This is my third (or fourth) post on this topic, requesting what you actually mean by learning styles. I see so many variations, there is no blanket theory. I get annoyed by nay sayers who don’t research the topic properly and make sweeping generalisations. I trust you’re not one of them. I’ll wait for a response.

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