International Report: Neuromyths and Evidence-Based Practices in Higher Education


Kristen Betts, Ed.D.,Clinical Professor, Drexel University

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The Online Learning Consortium partnered with 10 researchers from higher education institutions across three countries in 2018-19 to conduct an international study with instructors, instructional designers, and professional development administrators on neuromyths and evidence-based practices in higher education. While the study showed high levels of awareness of evidence-based practices, the data revealed a susceptibility among respondents to believing neuromyths and an opportunity to increase general knowledge about the brain through the learning sciences and Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) science. 

Before reading about the study, you are invited to complete a 6-question assessment to test your own awareness about neuromyths, the brain, and evidence-based practices. Answer the 6 questions below with Correct or Incorrect. The answer key is at the end of this post no looking ahead! 

  1. Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning styles (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic).          
  2. Metacognition plays a role in learning.
  3. Some of us are “left-brained” and some are “right-brained” due to hemispheric dominance and this helps explain differences in how we learn.
  4. Production of new connections in the brain can continue into old age. 
  5. We only use 10% of our brain.
  6. Universal Design for Learning is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.      

Research over the past decade has revealed a prevalence of believing neuromyths among K-12 teachers and pre-service teachers worldwide. However, the data presented in this report makes clear that higher education professionals are  not immune to ‘neuromyths’ as shared by Dr. Paul Howard-Jones in the preface. Why is debunking neuromyths important? Research indicates a relationship between an instructor’s beliefs about learning and her/his instructional practices (Brownlee, Ferguson & Ryan, 2017; Knapp, 2013; OECD, 2009; Nie, Tan, Liau, Lau, & Chua, 2013). While a number of studies have examined the “endorsement” of neuromyths and general knowledge about the brain, this study focused on “awareness” of neuromyths, general knowledge about the brain, and evidence-based practices.

A total of 929 respondents, who worked in two-year and four-year higher education institutions across on-campus, blended/hybrid, and online programs, participated in the study. They included full-time/part-time instructors (46%), 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 and general statements about the brain; (b) evidence-based practices from the learning sciences and MBE science; and (c) previous professional development activities, and demographic characteristics. 

Highlights from the study:

  • All three groups – instructors, instructional designers, and professional administrators – were susceptible to believing neuromyths.
  • Instructional designers had greater awareness of neuromyths, knowledge about the brain, and evidence-based practices than instructors and administrators.
  • There were no significant differences in (a) awareness of neuromyths and knowledge about the brain, or (b) evidence-based practices and demographic categories including: educational modality (i.e., teaching or developing courses for on-campus, blended/hybrid, online), institution level (two-year, four-year), institution type (public, private, for-profit), instructor role (full-time, part-time), number of years teaching, number of years as an instructional designer, gender, age, or time since highest degree completed.
  • Reading journals related to neuroscience, MBE science, and psychology increased awareness of (a) neuromyths and general information about the brain, and (b) evidence-based practices.
  • Professional development is a predictor of awareness of (a) neuromyths and general knowledge about the brain, and (b) evidence-based practices.
  • The majority of respondents reported interest in learning more about the brain and its influence on learning.

This report has seven sections. The first three sections focus on neuromyths, general knowledge about the brain, evidence-based practices, and professional development. Conclusions, recommendations, methodology, and demographics comprise the next three sections. The final section provides the answer keys with research supported responses for the 23 neuromyths and general statements about the brain, and 28 evidence-based practices.

We invite you to read and share this report. We also encourage your institutions to consider ways to expand professional development to include research from the learning sciences and MBE science.  

Answer Key: Correct (2, 4, 6) Incorrect (1, 3, 5)

Dr. Kristen Betts is a Clinical Professor at Drexel University and teaches in the doctoral, master’s, and certificate programs in the School of Education. She has over 20 years of experience serving in leadership positions within private, public, and for-profit institutions. Dr. Betts’ expertise is in higher education, online and blended learning, curriculum design, and faculty development. Her research focuses on student engagement/retention; online human touch; Mind, Brain, and Education science; Brain Targeted Teaching; and transfer of learning.



Brownlee, L., Ferguson, L.E., & Ryan, M. (2017). Changing teachers’ epistemic cognition: A new conceptual framework for epistemic reflexivity. Educational Psychologist, 52(4), 242-252.

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.

Grospietsch, F., Mayer, J. (2019) Pre-service science teachers’ neuroscience literacy:
Neuromyths and a professional understanding of learning and memory. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13(20). doi:10.3389/fnhum.2019.00020

Howard-Jones, P.A. (2014). Neuroscience and education: Myths and messages. Nature  
Reviews Neuroscience, 15(12), 817.

Knapp, D. W. (2013). Teaching as a transformational experience. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 84(6), 42-47. doi:10.1080/07303084.2013.808129

Macdonald, K., Germine, L., Anderson, A., Christodoulou, J., & McGrath, L. M. (2017). Dispelling the myth: training in education or neuroscience decreases but does not eliminate beliefs in neuromyths. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1314.

Nie, Y., Tan, G. H., Liau, A. K., Lau, S., & Chua, B. L. (2013). The roles of teacher efficacy in instructional innovation: Its predictive relations to constructivist and didactic instruction. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 12(1), 67-77.

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