Reflections of two pragmatists: A critique of Honey and Mumford's learning styles
Caple, Jim, Martin, Paul. Industrial and Commercial Training. Guilsborough: 1994. Vol. 26, Iss. 1; pg. 16, 5 pgs
It is argued that Honey and Mumford's (1982) contribution in analyzing learning styles has been productive in focusing educators' and trainers' attention on individual differences in learning situations. Beyond this, though, it is felt that their theoretical approach is not altogether helpful and is at times confused and confusing. It is also observed that their means of identifying individual styles may be flawed. If measurements of personality are required, there are more ...view middle of the document...
Unquestionably, Honey and Mumford's approach has been salutory in emphasizing that we all do learn in different ways and that uniform approaches to education and training, whether they be based on talk and chalk, experiential exercises or, indeed, distance learning, will not be suitable for every individual.
Having used the learning styles questionnaire with many training groups, however, and having discussed the application of the associated theory with them, we have become increasingly sceptical about the model's meaning and significance. This is not to deny its usefulness as a stimulus to debate, or as a focus for exploring learning preferences, we would simply question the coherence and validity of aspects of the model.
In essence, Honey and Mumford argue that people learn most usefully from experience. However, they suggest that simply having experiences does not guarantee effective learning. The experience should be reviewed, conclusions drawn from the review, and action taken to build upon the conclusions drawn. This sequence is usually diagrammatically represented as shown in Figure 1.
Effective learning from experience is only ensured by going through this cycle in its entirety. It seems to be the case, moreover, that some people concentrate on, or are better at, some stages of the cycle to the exclusion of others and, consequently, to the detriment of learning. Learning styles correlate with the cycle as shown in Figure 2.
Thus, people with high Reflector and low Activist scores may avoid experiences and learn vicariously through observation. "High" Pragmatists and "low" Theorists may only learn and be interested in things that work practically, in the here and now, without understanding why they work or if they would work in a different context.
By using a questionnaire, one's preferred learning style(s) can be identified and action plans derived to strengthen weaknesses or ensure exposure to learning situations which will improve the chances of effective learning taking place.
QUESTIONS AND PROBLEMS
The model has a superficial coherence and attraction but, in our view, some aspects of it require further examination and analysis. These are:
* What is meant precisely by "experience" in Honey and Mumford's model?
* How accurate is the learning cycle in describing how people actually learn from experience?
* To what extent do situations, circumstances and abilities determine the appropriateness of learning from experience or, indeed, the adoption of learning styles?
* How realistic and meaningful are the learning-style preferences depicted by Honey and Mumford?
* How valid is the questionnaire used to identify learning preferences?
LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
Fundamentally, Honey and Mumford and their adherents argue that learning from experience is critical to effective learning. But, in our view, what they mean by experience and what constitutes experience, is not clear or is assumed. Kolb, for example (to...