‘Students Learn Best in Their Preferred Learning Style,’ and Other Neuromyths

The Chronicle of Higher Education | October 17, 2019 - 


Professors are susceptible to neuromyths — false beliefs about learning that arise from misunderstandings about the brain. So are the instructional designers and professional developers who support their teaching. That’s the main finding of “International Report: Neuromyths and Evidence-Based Practices in Higher Education,” which was released last month by the Online Learning Consortium.

Among the most widely believed neuromyths is that students learn best when they’re taught according to their preferred learning style — visually, for example — according to the report, which is based on survey responses from about a thousand instructors and support professionals. Just over a quarter of professors correctly identified that idea as false, while 46 percent of instructional designers and 35 percent of professional-development administrators did.

There is no evidence, the report says, to support the idea that people learn best when taught in their preferred learning style. In fact, it says, research suggests that “teaching to learning styles may actually hinder learning or affect a student’s self-perception,” because it may lead students to seek only information presented in a particular way. If you’d like to explore that topic further, this article from The Atlantic is a good place to start.

Other examples of pervasive neuromyths include that people can be “left-brained” or “right-brained,” and that we use only 10 percent of our brain. The report includes research-backed explanations about why each of those misunderstandings is incorrect.

Instructors’ susceptibility to neuromyths matters, the report says, because the way instructors teach is rooted in their understanding of how people learn.

The survey also asked respondents about their familiarity with a number of evidence-based teaching practices, like the value of explaining the purpose of an activity and providing meaningful feedback (nearly all respondents got those two particular items right).

The report recommends that:

  • Colleges should “assess the awareness of neuromyths, general information about the brain, and evidence-based practices among their instructors, instructional designers, and administrators.”
  • Instructors and support-staff members — perhaps aided by teaching centers — should learn more about the brain. (The report includes a resource list.)
  • Colleges should ensure that their professional-development materials for instructors are scientifically accurate.

The report also suggests some ideas for future research, such as exploring a link between instructors’ adherence to neuromyths and their instructional practices, and examining whether “commercial products for the brain and learning” encourage the belief in neuromyths.

SOURCE: The Chronicle of Higher Education