Debunking Neuromyths Through Awareness and Professional Development

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Dr. Kristen Betts, Clinical Professor at Drexel University

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Neuro Cognitive Learning

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is reaching out to our global community of thought leaders, faculty, innovators, and practitioners to bring you insights from the field of online, blended, and digital learning. This week, Dr. Kristen Betts, OLC Institute Faculty for workshops Neuro, Cognitive, and Learning Sciences, Part I: Bringing Theory to Practice and Neuro, Cognitive and Learning Sciences, Part II: Applying Theory to Practice, and co-creator of the Applying the Neuro, Cognitive, and Learning Sciences to Instructional Design course, joins us to discuss the results of a recent survey looking deeper into neuromyths in education and how to increase one’s awareness of neuromyths and evidence-based practices.

Advancements in neuroscience provide critical insight about the brain and the learning process. Despite the proliferation of refereed neuroscience publications over the past decade, research reveals a susceptibility to believing in neuromyths with educators in both K-12 education and higher education. Neuromyths are described as false beliefs associated with education and learning that stem from misconceptions, misunderstandings, or the misreading of information about the brain and brain function.

In 2018, a study was conducted through the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) listservs to investigate neuromyth prevalence in higher education with instructors, instructional designers, and professional development administrators. A total of 1,290 surveys were completed, of which 929 met the criteria for inclusion. Respondents included full-time instructors (33%), part-time instructors (13%), instructional designers (26%), professional development  administrators (18%), and others (10%). Respondents represented 45 countries and 48 states in the United States.

The survey included three sections: (a) neuromyths about the brain and learning; (b) evidence-based practices related to the brain, teaching practices, and learning processes from the learning sciences and Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) science; and professional development and collected demographic data. 

The results of the study revealed a susceptibility to believing in neuromyths with instructors, instructional designers, and professional development administrators. The percent of correct responses to the 23 neuromyth statements across all instructors, instructional designers, and professional development administrators ranged from as low as 11% to as high as 94%. Three of the neuromyths which respondents were most susceptible included: 

  • Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning styles (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic);
  • Some of us are “left-brained” and some are “right-brained” due to hemispheric dominance and this helps explain differences in how we learn; and
  • We only use 10% of our brain.

Of the 28 evidence-based practices, the percent of correct responses across instructors, instructional designers, and administrators ranged from 26% to 99%. Evidence-based practices in which respondents had the greatest awareness included: 

  • Stress can impair the ability of the brain to encode and recall memories;
  • Explaining the purpose of a learning activity helps engage students in that activity; and
  • Emotions can affect the human cognitive processes, including attention, learning and memory, reasoning, and problem-solving.

One of the key findings from the OLC study was that instructional designers had greater awareness of neuromyths and evidence-based practices than instructors and administrators. Another key finding was that reading journals related to neuroscience, psychology, and MBE science increased awareness of neuromyths and evidence-based practices. Additionally, the study indicated that professional development is a predictor of awareness of neuromyths and evidence-based practices among higher education instructors, instructional designers, and administrators. It should be noted that the majority of respondents reported interest in learning more about the brain and its influence on learning. Respondents also found scientific knowledge about the brain and its influence on learning to be interesting and valuable to teaching practice, course development, and professional development.

An OLC announcement about the neuromyths and evidence-based practice report will come out shortly.


Dr. Kristen Betts is a Clinical Professor at Drexel University and part of the OLC Institute for Professional Development faculty.

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