The Learning Styles Myth
The Myth: “I’m a visual learner,” Similar to the left vs. right brain, another prevalent neuromyth in education is the belief that students have distinct learning styles–meaning that their ways of learning (i.e., visual, kinesthetic, auditory, etc) require different teaching practices .
The Facts: While some students may prefer different types of information delivery, there is no existing research to date to suggest that there is any benefit in teaching them in their preferred learning style . In fact, everybody uses a mix of these styles, and some of us are dominant in one or the other. We may also use one style in a situation and another under different circumstances .
The Alternative: There is a variety of ways to engage students with the material they are learning. One of the most popular teaching methods that incorporates both student-centered learning and the multiple representations of information is the Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a set of principles that helps teachers design flexible learning environments that adapt to the variability of learners.
The Critical Window of Time for Learning Myth
The Myth: “I’m too old to learn this.” This misconception is often linked to the “myth of three,” which postulates that the brain only retains information during a critical period–rendering the first three years of a child’s life decisive for future development and success in life.
The Facts: While critical periods have been observed in animal behavior, scientists have agreed that these are not as delineated in human beings, and instead favor the term “sensitive periods” which can be impacted by many factors . Instead, research in neuroscience shows that different brain systems showcase different types and amount of changes with experience. This is called plasticity–the capacity that the brain has to change through learning . So while some skills can be acquired during optimal times (i.e., grammar rules), it doesn’t mean that exposure and training beyond that could not lead to changes and learning.
The Alternative: Many educators have been enthusiastic about the idea of a “growth mindset” in opposition to a fixed learning pathway. While the idea is popular, there is also growing concern that teachers might not have the resources to use the concept effectively in the classroom. For instance, a recent nationwide survey of K-12 teachers reported that 85% of them wanted more professional development in the area .
How to Avoid Neuromyths
Start with skepticism! Look beyond mere claims and dig a little deeper to research the science behind these claims. For instance, research shows that we get seduced by explanations that are accompanied by images of the brain, no matter how random they are. This doesn’t mean being a complete pessimist, but to try to strike a balance between popular facts and scientific research. Is the claim being sold as a cure-all? What does the evidence say? Does it sound too simple? One of the best ways to do so is to be informed and knowledgeable about the brain.