“We only use 10% of our brains.”
“Playing Mozart to an unborn fetus makes the future child smarter.”
“Everyone has a learning style which is the most effective way of teaching them.”
All of these statements are myths, and yet all of them persist in today’s society. Psychology myths seem to have a curious sticking power, perhaps because they target the most mysterious and personal of all phenomena: that of the human mind itself. Unfortunately, unlike urban legends about Big Foot or Elvis-zombies, myths in the world of psychology and education are particularly insidious because a great many of them inform real-world practice. Not only can this result in a waste of time, money and effort that produce few results, they can actively harm those who are subjected to these practices.
One of the most popular myths in education theory is that every student has a preferred “learning style”. An individual student, legends say, gravitates towards listening to instructors talk, or looking at diagrams, or perhaps making things with their hands. Other methods of instruction, the myth continues, are going to be ineffective at teaching that particular student.
The Problem and Solutions
Unfortunately, these ideas are based on flawed studies that have long ago been debunked. Modern research has shown many times, that the “To each his own learning style” theory is dangerously wrong (see some of the suggested further reading below for some great summaries of current research, which include citations). It is true that using multiple media to teach students is effective and important, but the idea that only some of these methods will penetrate specific students while ignoring the others is flatly false.
And the potential harm? Well, for one, it gives people harmful ideas about their own abilities (in fact, when people self-report a favored learning style, it often contradicts their tested performance). Under the influence of this myth, a student may grow to feel that “reading” is simply a learning style that they’re not “attuned to” and give up on trying to improve that part of their core skills. Worse, a teacher may even encourage that line of thinking, removing the chance for the student to actually improve their weak skills. And of course, there’s the wasted time and resources that educators put in to tailor parts of their course to specific students, time that could be spent doing much more productive work, such as revamping lesson plans for the class as a whole.
Using diverse styles to teach your class is still important, however. You might want to take a look at how Readorium uses games, animations, videos, images and text to supplement our lessons, not to target individual students, but for all.
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