There are fewer buzzwords in the elearning industry that result in a greater division than “learning style”. I know from experience. There have been posts on this site related to the topic which resulted in a few passionate comments (such as this one).
The concept of learning styles is nearly as divisive as politics.
Both sides reference various studies that support their position. Both sides are entrenched with what they consider to be true. Rarely (if ever) does anyone change their mind.
As such, my intent isn’t to discuss learning styles. Everyone has their mind made up already. It’s time to move the discussion along.
Learner Preference & Motivation
If we bring the conversation “up” a level, we all ultimately agree that every learner has preferences and motiviation. No need to cite studies for this concept, just think about yourself for a moment.
You enjoy certain things because you prefer them over others.
You do certain things because you are motivated to do so.
In the same respect, people prefer to learn information in a particular way. They also find some methods of learning more motivating than others. Whether you attribute this to learning styles or not is completely up to you.
Learning consultant Clive Shepherd recently published a book that examines this aspect of learning design. The book is titled More Than Blended Learning and examines motivation, background, interests, preferences, and cultural expectations influence on how we learn.
Any well-made course, be it in elearning or live instruction, will profile the target audience. While each individual is certainly different, instructional designers do attempt to identify the key preferences and motivations of learners so that their course can be more effective.