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Learning Styles vs. Teaching Modalities: Why Video Can Help in the Classroom

One of the arguments in favor of using video for education is often that students have different learning styles, and offering visual learners a visual medium increases their chances of success.

I was talking to a friend recently, an instructional designer, and he referred to me to a fascinating article by Vanderbilt’s Derek Bruff from a few years back. “Learning Styles: Fact and Fiction – A Conference Report” brought up some very interesting points about learning styles and the importance of catering to them.

Bruff’s point, gathered from the work of a number of speakers and publications, boiled down to the notion that while there is demonstrable differences between different students’ preferred learning styles, it doesn’t actually make much of a difference on the end result based on whether they learn through their preferred style or not. According to these researchers, they’re just that – preferences.

Shifting Focus from Learning Styles to Teaching Modalities

So does that mean trying to present information in multiple formats is useless? Should we stop bothering to create educational video? Quite the opposite.

What Bruff goes on to point out is that it’s not about changing the number of learning styles we cater to, it’s about increasing the number of teaching modalities. What has been shown to be effective is presenting information in more than one way. The more different teaching modalities are used, the better students tend to engage with and retain the information.

In addition, video presents some specific advantages for several of the points Bruff raises in terms of what modalities are particularly effective.

1. Video is a particularly effective form of visual presentation.

Visual thinking tools are specifically called out for how well they help humans absorb information. We’re adapted to process visual stimuli better than most other forms of communication.

2. Modalities should be chosen based off what works best for the material…and multiple modalities combined are more effective.

In recent years, video has become a far more flexible medium. It’s no longer just a lean-back experience. As video creation tools have become more common and video has added additional layers of interactivity, video has transformed. It’s a way to impart large amounts of information in a concise and memorable way. It’s also a way for students to create their own responses, to choose the order and content of their learning, to answer questions in the moment and receive immediate feedback on whether they understood. Leveraging today’s video capabilities in full involves multiple teaching modalities. When combined with other, more traditional activities – in-classroom lectures, reading materials, hands-on activities – educational video can become even more effective.

Curious about interactive video? Learn more at the webinar “Interactive Video Primer For Education: Find Out What You’ll Need to Know.”

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