Dispelling Myths About Learning

We have all heard, laughed at, and possibly even believed popular urban myths; swallowing chewing gum causes your insides to stick together, Bigfoot roams the Pacific Northwest, etc.…  Popular myths can take off like wildfire and can even be found in the field of education. The problem here is, myths and misconceptions in the educational domain can sometimes hinder learning. For instance, many people have heard the myth that humans only use 10 percent of their brains. However, despite what the general population believes, psychologists and neuroscientists have found otherwise. While it is true that only a small portion of the human brain “lights up” during cerebral testing, that is simply an indication of the portions of the brain that are particularly hard at work. The rest of the brain is not loafing on the couch with a bag of potato chips, but simply doing “baseline” work.

This myth is so widely believed and accepted in our society that is known in the neuroscience world as simply the “10 percent myth.” The 10 percent myth, according to a study conducted by academics at the VU University Amsterdam in conjunction with Bristol University is held by 47 percent of teachers. Other ideas that perhaps do not rise to the same level of myth but can be classified as misconceptions similarly muddy the educational waters.

Upon hearing the following statement, “a richly stimulating environment aids in the development of preschool children,” most educators would nod their heads in agreement, as it seems to be a pretty obvious assertion. Again, this statement is somewhat of a misconception, derived most likely from studies conducted on rats that tested the difference between those raised with and without stimuli.  This is a perfect case of the wrong information being gleaned from the results of an experiment. While it is true that the rats in the experiment that were not raised in isolation were better equipped to learn, the lesson to be taken from this study was that receiving stimulation well below the norm interferes with learning. It is not true; however, that excessive stimulation or enrichment beyond the norm is beneficial to a child. This misconception was held by 74 percent of the teachers in the above-mentioned study.

Finally, the biggest myth or misconception, which was held by 94 percent of teachers in the study, is that student performance is tied to preferred learning styles. The Association of Psychological Science commissioned a study that concluded that while students do indeed have preferential learning styles, they do not translate into how effectively they learn. Students with recognized learning disabilities have individual needs and benefit from modifications and adapted instruction; however, there is no evidence that matching instruction to specific learning styles increases student achievement. This not only goes against what educators have known but what most people believe.

With best practices in education constantly changing and evolving, it is often hard to keep up with the most current and accurate information. As a result, myths can often spread quickly and widely in our field. We know it’s not a simple task but questioning new information and separating common notions from facts and research could prove to be beneficial in the classroom.

©2012 James Stanfield Company. All Rights Reserved.

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