Being an intern at The Learning Hub, I am extremely pleased to share my thoughts as a guest-writer on this blog. It seems to me a perfect opportunity to write about some persistent urban legends in the world of training design.

As my colleague Sofie mentioned in her blogpost about UX Design in Digital Learning, it is vital to know for whom we are developing a course. Who are the end-users of our training? While thinking of this, it is easy to put learners in pigeonholes, to talk about them as digital natives, self-educators, or to align our training to their learning style. Although these terms are pervasive in literature about instructional design, they are very vague and misleading. As a training designer, this means you need to decide what you are going for: the reassuring lie, or the inconvenient truth.

In an intriguing article by Kirschner and van Merriënboer (2013), these “Urban Legends in Education” are countered. This article has been written four years ago, but is still extremely up-to-date, as I still run into these terms daily.

Urban legend 1: Digital natives

When trainers talk about digital natives, they mean the generation generally born after 1985. They have always been surrounded by digital technologies and are therefore highly technology-competent and able to effectively multitask with various technologies at the same time. But instead, research has shown that these so-called digital natives only use a limited range of technologies for learning. Also, they are often observed listening, instant messaging, taking notes and surfing the web at the same time. At first sight, we would say they are highly efficient multitaskers. But there is a catch. Humans are not capable of doing more than one task at the same time if that task is not fully automated. These learners are thus switching between tasks instead of multitasking. Nonetheless, constantly switching between media is not beneficial when it comes to learning results.

Urban legend 2: Learning styles

“So, digital natives do not exist, I get it”, I hear you say, “but learning styles? I am sure I have my own learning style!” Are you? Which one do you have? A visual one? Verbal? Solitary? Physical? Are you a stress learner? A copy learner? Reflective and observational? A combination? Linguistic? Bodily-Kinesthetic? And even if you manage to see the wood for the trees and give a proper answer, how do you know? By self-observation? The adequacy of this research design is highly questionable. Learners simply do not fit into pigeonholes, which makes it totally impractical and even harmful for learning to align instruction all to rigorously to one of these learning styles.

Urban legend 3: Self-educators

The other deep rooted belief is that learners are self-educators who can educate themselves with everything they find on the web and that there is no need to teach such knowledge anymore. Then again, the fact that one makes use of many electronic devices and might be called digital native does not make him or her a good user of those media.

The inconvenient truth is that learners are no multitasking, technology-savvy self-educators. The reality is far more complicated. As such, at The Learning Hub, we make a thorough analysis of our learners and never content ourselves with a misleading myth nor a reassuring lie.