Fake News: Separating Fact from Fiction in Learning

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Everyone has a learning style that’s best for them. We’ve all heard this and accepted it as fact, right?  Would you be surprised to learn it’s not true?  Come to this fun, interactive session on spotting and avoiding this and other learning myths that can result in bad instructional design.


Carolyn Stoll holds a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Master of Arts in English, both from Miami University of Ohio. For 18 years, she taught first year composition and technical writing at the University of Cincinnati. Prior to that, she taught middle school Language Arts. She has extensive experience teaching and developing learning content in all formats (online, hybrid, and face to face). She is a Quality Matters Certified Reviewer and workshop facilitator, and her research and pedagogical interests involve eLearning and teaching online, topics on which she has written articles and presented at both national and regional conferences. In 2010, Carolyn joined University of Cincinnati Information Technologies managing UCIT’s Instructional Design and Content unit. In 2012, she was hired by the College of Allied Health Sciences, where she is now a Senior Instructional Designer in the Center for Educational Technology and Instructional Support.
Dawn H. Clineman, MS is the Director of Online Instruction with UC Online. Dawn has worked with the University of Cincinnati since 2008 and has served the university in a number of roles with the primary focus of online learning administration, design, and instruction. She has a variety of eLearning experience. As a member of senior leadership of UC Online, Dawn works closely with programs and faculty developing and building their online programs and classes. She has designed, developed, and facilitated faculty workshops to enhance the understanding of the design process and the pedagogical approach required for successful online teaching and learning. She also manages an instructional design team within UC Online.Prior to working for UC, she consulted with universities across the nation and launched online programs. She supported faculty and administration in their curriculum development, their development of infrastructure, and enhancement of their business model. Dawn received her BS degree in Social Science from Florida Atlantic University and her MS degree in Conflict Resolution from Nova Southeastern University. Dawn is passionate about bringing quality education to the online environment and ensuring the student experience is strong.

Extended Abstract

People only remember 10% of what they read but 90% of what they do…so you should employ more active learning techniques. 

Everyone has their preferred learning style…so you should make sure to design your instruction to meet as many styles as possible.

Learners forget 50% of what they’ve learned after one day…so students should review material often to repeat exposure.

Students today are “digital natives” and understand technology instinctively…so we don’t need to worry that they won’t be able to use (fill in the blank) software.

Right brained people are more creative…so if we design assignments to allow for more creativity, they’ll do better.

All of the above are commonly heard pronouncements regarding how learning happens.  As in the statements above, they are often invoked as the reasoning behind the design choices.  They are used as the rationale for best practices presented at conferences (including this one). They are ubiquitous and accepted as fact.  Seemingly, no one questions them. 

In reality, none of these statements are true; in fact they are all patently, demonstrably false, and can often be debunked by simply thinking through them carefully and logically. Why would memory retention, for instance, break down so neatly into percentages divisible by 10?

So why are they so pervasive? And what can we do about it?

One of the reasons learning myths persist is because there are often kernels of truth in them that got co-opted and extrapolated beyond their original intent.  Another reason, according to Pedro De Bruyckere, Paul A. Kirschner, and Casper D. Hulshof, authors of Urban Myths about Learning and Education, is that anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection has a platform to publish whatever they want.  Ideas with even the slimmest veneer of credibility get picked up, repeated, expanded on, and spread (Bruyckere, Kirschner, and Hulshof 2015). It’s the learning profession’s version of fake news, with much of the same underlying causes and effects.

Why is this a problem?  Isn’t it a good idea to try to provide instruction in many different modalities, even if students don’t really have a preferred learning style to design for?  Isn’t active learning shown to be more effective?  Wouldn’t it make learning more engaging if students were allowed to be more creative? 

The answer to all of these questions is, it depends.  If an instructor is busy designing a lesson that meets the auditory learner, but isn’t paying attention to aligning the class activities to her objectives, then that’s a waste of time for everyone. Similarly, we know conclusively that active learning results in better learning outcomes.  But if an English instructor forgoes a written text simply because he believes that students will only retain 10% of it anyway, students in his class will be missing a chance to model the writing of more experienced writers.  And finally, if an engineering instructor tries to engage her right-brained learners’ creativity by assigning a poem as an assessment in thermodynamics, it’s unlikely the students will be able to demonstrate mastery.

In this session, we will explore these commonly held myths about the science of instruction and discuss why they are so widely believed. We will look at what research actually shows about their ability to inform instructional design decisions. We will also invite the participants to brainstorm together how to recognize learning myths, especially if their primary expertise is not in education, and we will provide myth debunking resources.

Presentation Format

We will begin this presentation with a quick game of Myth or Reality.  Participants will be given paddle boards with “M” on one side and “R” on the other. As we will display various learning theories on the projector, we will ask participants to hold up the side of the paddle that represents whether they think it’s a myth or reality.  We will then delve into 5 of the most pervasive learning myths, invite the participants to suggest reasons why they are a myth, and provide the research evidence regarding their validity.  We will finish with a quick corporate brainstorming session on methods to spot learning myths.  Included in materials participants will receive will be citations for all research cited and reliable resources to use to sort fact from fiction.

Key takeaways

Participants will leave the session with

  1. A greater awareness of common learning myths and why they are an obstacle to effective instructional design
  2. Evidence to use to convince others that these common perceptions are in fact myths
  3. Tools and resources for spotting learning myths


Bruyckere, P. D., Kirschner, P. A., & Hulshof, C. D. (2015). Urban Myths about Learning and Education. Amsterdam: Elsevier, Academic Press.