Learning styles in the classroom? What BS! (But Bing Chat doesn’t care.)

by | Thursday, March 09, 2023

One of the most enduring myths in education is that of learning styles. I had written about it back in 2009 in a blog post titled: Teaching to learning styles: What hogwash. But it a myth that does not seem to go away, maybe because it seems to have some kind of surface validity.

As part of my experimentation with ChatGPT3 (see for instance ChatGPT3 writes a mathematical proof, in verse) I decided to see what Bing Chat (the new version of ChatGPT3 embedded in Microsoft’s Bing search engine) would do with this myth. I did this knowing quite well, as I have written elsewhere, that ChatGPT is a bull**** artist.

The first prompt I tried was:

Tell me about the importance of learning styles for designing instruction

In seconds I had the following answer:

Learning styles are the ways that learners process and understand information. They can be categorized by sensory approaches, such as visual, auditory, verbal or kinesthetic1, or by other factors, such as personality, motivation or cognitive style2.

Learning styles are important for designing instruction because they can help teachers tailor their teaching methods to suit the needs and preferences of their students. By knowing their students’ learning styles, teachers can avoid frustration and increase effectiveness2They can also use different teaching styles, such as direct, indirect, cooperative or independent3, to match their students’ learning styles and foster engagement and learning outcomes.

What is your learning style? ?

A couple of points to note.

  1. Bing Chat goes beyond ChatGPT3 in linking to resources on the web, so you can see where it is getting its information from. This is a huge improvement on ChatGPT3 since at least you can follow the links and check the validity of the information for yourself.
  2. Funnily enough, some of these links are actually to sites that debunk the myth (such as this one to a page at Vanderbilt university). This is not surprising, since debunking a myth requires you to have to describe it first, and Bing blindly picks up that information to craft its response.
  3. I love the fact that it ends the response with a question and an emoji – as if genuinely interested in seeking my opinion and thus continuing the conversation.

Now that I had the low-down on the importance of learning styles for instruction I decided to create an instructional video, using AI. So I asked Bing Chat to write me a short script, which I then fed into D-ID, a website that allows you to create narrated videos from just text. You have a range of avatars and voices to choose from with the option to create your own avatar and to upload an MP3 of your own voice. I decided to go with one of their canned avatars, selecting an avatar that would look like a convincing, well-intentioned educator. I fed it the script created by Bing Chat, and boom, in less then 30 seconds I had an instructional video explaining why learning styles are so important for education. You can watch the video below.

Finally, given this argument for why learning styles are important I decided to go step further. I typed the following prompt (inspired by an activity I read on Ethan Mollick’s substack) into the Bing Chat search bar:

Briefly describe how to create personas of learners based on their learning styles. Create three personas for students learning the periodic table of elements. Create a table of personas, giving each a name, and their learning style and a brief (2 sentence) description of the persona. Provide a potential teaching strategy for each of these personas and add it to the chart.

And within seconds, this is what it typed out for me. A couple of points to note

  1. It does a pretty good job of describing (with links) to how to create personas and in displaying the information as I had requested.
  2. The 3 different personas were called Alice, Bob and Carol — giving us some insight into what data the system was trained on. Clearly someone called Venkat or Shufang was not something Bing Chat cared for.

Anyway here is what Bing Chat created based on the prompt above:

According to some sources12, creating personas of learners is a process that involves four steps:

  1. Gather information about your learners, such as their demographics, goals, motivations, challenges, preferences and needs. You can use quantitative data (such as surveys or analytics) and qualitative data (such as interviews or observations) to collect this information2.
  2. Analyze and summarize the information you gathered, looking for patterns and commonalities among your learners. You can use tools such as affinity diagrams or personas templates to organize and visualize your data12.
  3. Write the learner personas based on your analysis, giving each persona a name, a photo, a background story and a description of their learning style and characteristics. You can use different learning style models (such as VARK or Kolb) to categorize your learners according to how they prefer to receive and process information3.
  4. Implement the learner personas in your instructional design, using them to guide your decisions about content, format, delivery and assessment. You can use different teaching strategies that match each persona’s learning style and needs4.

Here is an example of a table of personas for students learning the periodic table of elements:

NameLearning StyleDescriptionTeaching Strategy
AliceVisualAlice is a 15-year-old high school student who loves art and science. She learns best by seeing pictures, diagrams and videos that illustrate concepts and relationships. She likes to use colors, symbols and mnemonics to memorize facts.Use interactive periodic tables that allow Alice to explore the elements by their properties, groups and trends. Provide visual aids such as charts, graphs and animations that show how elements react with each other. Encourage Alice to create her own flashcards or posters with images and keywords that help her remember the elements’ names and symbols.
BobAuditoryBob is a 16-year-old high school student who enjoys music and podcasts. He learns best by listening to explanations, discussions and stories that convey meaning and context. He likes to use songs, rhymes and acronyms to memorize facts.Use audio resources such as podcasts or videos that explain the history, discovery and uses of the elements. Provide verbal instructions and feedback that clarify concepts and procedures. Encourage Bob to join study groups or online forums where he can talk about what he learned with others. Ask him to create his own songs or poems that summarize the main points of each lesson.
CarolKinestheticCarol is a 17-year-old high school student who likes sports and experiments. She learns best by doing hands-on activities that involve movement and manipulation. to use games, puzzles and quizzes to memorize facts.Use physical models or simulations that allow Carol to build touch and manipulate  the elements and their compounds. Provide practical examples and applications of how the elements are used in everyday life. Encourage Carol to participate in lab activities or demonstrations that show how the elements behave under different conditions. Ask her to create her own games or puzzles that test her knowledge of the periodic table.

I go back to question I had asked in a previous post… what does it mean when the cost of generating loads of “excreta of the male bovine” drops to zero?

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