Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Learning styles

Nice article looking at the literature on learning styles and concluding " no clear evidence supporting any of the many theories about learning styles. They fault weak methodology and the commercial nature of much of the research"

Why so many theories of education?

Stephen Downes asked "why education has so many different theories, as opposed to pretty much any discipline that is not fiction, which has just one main theory. "

I don't think multiple competing theories is restricted to education, but affects the whole of the humanities and social sciences. I think that there are a number of reasons for this (some better than others).

Firstly, we bring a huge amount of baggage with us - political beliefs, religious beliefs, the society we live in etc. Thus we can have Marxist, capitalist, Christian, Muslim etc theories of society and of education.

Secondly, but related to the first, there is no agreement on what education is about (or for). Is it to enable us to be good workers (wage slaves?)? or is it to develop the whole person in an Enlightenment way? Or is it to make us good believers? (Well we have faith schools in the UK) Or, what is the balance between these competing demands on education.

Thirdly, there is no agreement on whether learning is social or individual (for lack of a better word). Clearly, at some level learning is what occurs inside the learners head, but equally clearly it has social aspects too.

Fourthly, measurement is extremely inaccurate for a number of reasons. Marking is an art not a science (however hard exam boards try). Get two people to mark the same script and the marks can vary enormously (hence double marking and double peer review). Also, we examine (ie look at) what we (easily) can rather than what we may want to. We use proxies to the real learning. Thus, it is very hard to know what has been learned.

Fifthly, Learning theories seem to have problems with the disconnects between:- formal and informal learning- what the student wants and what the teacher / system want- learning and using that learning (there are plenty of stories - and some research - into students being able to answer exam questions on eg physics questions, but not being able to apply that to the real world.

In conclusion, I would suggest that the social sciences (and I would lump education in there) are not comparable to the physical sciences as they start from ones political perspective and therefore there will be competing incommensurate theories. The nearest I can think of the sciences is evolution and so called intelligent design. Because they start from different premises (evidence and faith respectively) they cannot actually be compared.

Is homeworking better for the environment

According to a new study: Rebound: unintended consequences of transport policy and technology innovations working from home saves at best 0.4% of the energy used compared to going to work. They also suggest that home shopping does not save energy except in very limited circumstances. It seems to me that this must depend on how you do it. They suggest that heating homes, for instance, uses a lot of the energy and that people travel more for social reasons.
It seems to me that it must depend on what you do. I hardly ever put the heating on, and only turn the printer on when printing (maybe once a week). Admittedly I would probably cycle to work in which case their would be little energy used getting to work. However they say

"It does however require energy to heat or cool the home office. lt may also
lead to people moving further from the workplace, which could stretch urban
cities further apart (this is often referred to as sprawl). Aebischer and Huser
(2000) reported that there would be a 30% increase in household energy use if
one person in a household was working from home. lt was also found that the
number of non-commuting trips increases slightly with telecommuting"
As for online shopping, if it is being delivered by the postman - who goes past the house every day - what is the extra energy? Their evidence is based on a 2001 report which claims:

"Matthew and Hendrickson (2001)demonstrated that roughly the same amount of
energy is used to distribute 1 million dollars worth of bestseller books inU.S.
metropolitan areas by traditional retails (28-33 TJ of energy) as by online
shopping (30 TJ of energy). A similar study inJapan concluded that traditional
retail has a lower environmental impact in dense urban areas (Williams and
Tagami, 2001)."
I would have thought that this would have changed significantly in the last few years. Local shops have closed so people may have to travel further to shop and there has been a vast increase in online shopping so that there may be significant volume savings.
However, a large part of their argument seems to be based on the "Rebound effect" whereby if we make savings in one place then it is ok to use more elsewhere (I don't commute so I can go further for my holiday).