#LTHEchat186: Debunking Neuromyths in Education: What psychology really tells us

Guest Host Dr Linda K. Kaye @LindaKKaye

Effective educators are responsive to the learning needs of their students, and develop inclusive educational resources and provision as a way of accommodating the diverse range of learners. Learners can of course vary considerably in many ways from demographic characteristics, personality, cognitive ability and varied approaches of learning. It is not uncommon for educators to seek strategies to support these diversities yet may often fall into the trap of using what they believe to be empirically-valid strategies.

Unfortunately, not all these strategies are supported by valid evidence. These are what we often refer to as “neuromyths”; commonly used pedagogic strategies which are assumed to be scientifically-informed yet unfortunately do not hold water in the psychological or neuroscience literature. A very common neuromyth is that of “learning styles” which has been the attention of many educationalists for decades but most commonly operationalised in the “VAK” typology. This suggests that learners assume a way of learning either as a “visual learner”, “auditory learner” or “kinaesthetic learner”. Despite this being commonplace in teacher education and educational practice, there is no evidence to suggest that there are neurological or cognitive variations between “learner types” when engaged in learning tasks. Learning styles is one neuromyth which has come under significant scrutiny (Dekker et al., 2012; Husmann & O’Loughlin, 2018; Li et al., 2016; Papadatou-Pastou et al., 2018).

Unfortunately, learning styles are not the only neuromyth evident in educational practice. Others include; right-brain/left-brain, and purely genetically determined intelligence. Recent research has suggested that among college-level staff, 97% and 77% endorse learning styles and right brain/left brain neuromyths respectively, although only 20% endorse genetically-determined intelligence (Boser, 2019). Clearly there is some work to do to ensure that research-informed practice is integrated into teacher education and training.

References

Boser, U. (2019). What Do Teachers Know About The Science of Learning? TheLearning Agency [online]. Retrieved  September, 22 2020, from: https://www.the-learningagency.com/insights/what-do-teachers-know-about-the-science-of-learning

Dekker, S., Lee, N. C., Howard-Jones, P., & Jolles, J. (2012). Neuromyths in education: prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 429. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00429

Husmann, P. R., & O’Loughlin, V. D. (2018). Another nail in the coffin for learning styles? Disparities among undergraduate anatomy students’ study strategies, class performance, and reported VARK learning styles. Anatomical Sciences Education. doi: 10.1002/ase.1777

Li, Y., Medwell, J., Wray, D., Wang, L., & Liu, X. (2016). Learning Styles: A Review of Validity and Usefulness. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 4 (10), 90-94

Papadatou-Pastou., Gritzali, M., & Barrable, A. (2018). The Learning Styles Educational Neuromyth: Lack of Agreement Between Teachers’ Judgments, Self-Assessment, and Students’ Intelligence. Frontiers in Education, 3, https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2018.00105

Dr Linda K. Kaye is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Edge Hill University (UK). Her area of specialism is cyberpsychology which relates to the psychological experiences associated with new technologies and aspects of the Internet. She also has interests in the psychology of learning and teaching, particularly how to support collaborative based learning through technology.

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