“Metalearning:” Learning Styles and the Potential Workplace Disconnect

Recently, I saw a meme on a social media platform that was quite disturbing.  It wasn’t political in nature, nor did it have to do with the pandemic, but it spoke to a subject in education that isn’t discussed, and that’s “trending.”  Not what the trend is, but taking a look back, and then seeing the progress or retrogression that’s happened over the course of time.  The meme stated, “In the 50’s and 60’s, Latin and Greek were taught in high school; today, remedial reading classes are held in college.”

Several years ago, I attended a session at an educational conference which focused on special needs students, and the importance of measuring the ability of the student, rather than the disability of the student.  It was quite invigorating, as the presenter shared techniques to assist students with dyslexia, autism and other diagnoses, emphasizing the accommodations which can be made to ensure a learner is achieving to his or her potential.  Afterward, a colleague mentioned, “This is great in the classroom, but what happens when these students get into the work force?   Correspondence needs to have correct grammar, sentence structure and spelling.”  Apparently, one of the “wicked” questions that educators have began asking themselves is, “If our schools are preparing students for jobs that may not even exist yet, what type of jobs will be there for the increasing population of students with an IEP?”

Riding home, I began pondering that same type of thinking, but for the typical learner, and relative to their main learning style.  In other words, what type of learners – visual, auditory or kinesthetic – do well in school, and what type of learners – visual, auditory or kinesthetic – do well in the job force?

As this might be one of those potential dissertation topics, the thesis statement could be stated as, “Students with a preferred visual or auditory learning style do well in school while those with a preferred kinesthetic learning style do well on the job.”  It stands to reason that students who prefer to absorb information visually and aurally are most probably the ones who will do well on standardized testing.  Those who learn most effectively by doing, however, can effectively demonstrate their learning through the creation of a project; yet, when it comes to standardized testing, they may be classified as the “middle-of-the-road” students.

It would be interesting to discover what may happen when students with a determined preferred learning style enter the workforce.  Visual and auditory students may do very well during their training period; yet, when it comes time to do the real work of the job, may experience difficulties in “getting up to speed,” and making the same errors repeatedly rather than learning from them.  The kinesthetic learner may be more adept at learning from his or her mistakes, and therefore, may be able advance in the workplace more quickly than classmates who may have done very well in classroom.

If, through research, this type of behavior is proven to have some truth to it, then is education really preparing students to succeed in the workforce?  Further, if standardized testing measures the performance of the individual student, while the workplace of the future is where team collaboration across the miles will become the norm, then the classroom which parents and grandparents were familiar with is not necessarily properly structured for effective learning for today’s student.