(image generated at wordart.com)
As we have settled into the start of a new term, it is a good time to pause for a short moment and reflect: is there something new I can learn about teaching and learning and apply it in my teaching?
“Neuromyths: Debunking false ideas about the brain” (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2018) offers an easy read yet presents challenging ideas. Could our beliefs about teaching and learning be totally wrong as neuroscience develops and scientists unravel more and more understanding about how our brain functions? In this post, we will investigate three aspects of learning: learning styles, intelligence and emotions.
- About learning styles: “Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning styles.” Is this statement a myth or fact?
It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding learning styles: Although learning style have been widely used, the above statement is not supported by the science. Individual variance in learning preferences do exist. Yet evidence suggests that it is unhelpful to assign learners to groups or categories on the basis of a supposed learning style. (Vaughan 2017)
The danger of this myth lies in its potential to mislead students to think: “The content is not presented in my preferred learning styles, so I can not learn it well. Therefore, I don’t even need to make an effort to try learn it.” Instead of focusing on positive attitude and efforts, students can blame on content or curriculum not delivered to meet their individual learning styles.
Why is it important to debunk this myth? It helps redirect teachers’ efforts into developing real learning, real progress and real success through universal design for learning, such as multiple means of representations, multiple means of interactions, and multiple means of expressions. (cast.org, n.d.)
Practical applications of online learning for debunking learning styles include:
- Provide content in multiple formats if possible
- Interact and engage students at all levels: student-to-content interactions, students-to-students, students-to-instructor interactions.
- Provide opportunities for students to demonstrate and express their learning.
2.About intelligence: “Intelligence is fixed.” Is this statement a myth or fact?
It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding intelligence: Neuroplasticity is one of the main characteristics of adult human brains, where neurons and neural networks in the brain are capable of changing their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage or dysfunction (Encyclopedia Britannica). Cognitive psychology tells us that belief in one’s own abilities is highly relevant to successful learning (Marsh and Yeung, 1997).
The danger of this myth lies in its potential to lead both the instructor and students to think that because a student’s intelligence is fixed, there isn’t much to do about their learning success.
Why is it important to debunk this myth? It liberates both the instructor and students to believe that teaching and learning success is possible for everyone.
Online learning applications from debunking the idea of “fixed intelligence”:
- Encourage and motivate students to to believe in malleable intelligence and the neuroscience evidences behind it.
- Provide opportunities for students to reflect on past learning success
- Provide opportunities for students to acknowledge their capability of learning well in the course.
3. About emotions: “The brain is for thinking, the heart is for feeling”. Is this statement a myth or fact?
It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding emotion: Emotions amplify memory. And emotions influence decision making. (Miller, 2018; Immording-Yang, 2015).
Danger of this myth occurs when instructors don’t consider the impact of students’ emotions on learning and motivations. Have you heard such sayings like: “I am a chemistry/biology/physics/math teacher. I only need to focus on teaching the content”? As a matter of fact, teachers can exert great influence in motivating students to have a growth mindset and challenging students to put in their best effort for learning.
How is it important to debunk such myth? It points out to both the instructor and students that students’ self-perception and their learning success are closely related. (Marsh, 1997)
Online learning applications from debunking the idea of “The brain is for thinking, the heart is for feeling”:
- Show that you are welcoming through a welcome message using announcement, post or email.
- Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other through text, audio or video-based messages, such as a week 1 discussion forum that allows everyone to introduce themselves to the class, using voicethread (a video, audio, and/or text-based commenting tool) to introduce everyone, or record a short video for self-introduction.
- Tell your students that they can be successful in learning the content even though it might be challenging. With confident self-perception, they will have the motivation to persist throughout the term.
- Tell your students that the most effective way for learning is through spaced practices, retrieval practices, and interleaving practices.
Feel free to contact your Ecampus instructional designer if you would like more information on any of the above topics.
* This blog was inspired by Online Learning Consortium 2018 workshops on Neuro, Cognitive, and Learning Sciences, Bring Theory to Practice (Part I & Part II), facilitated by two amazing teachers: Dr. Kristen Betts and Dr. Michelle Miller. A big “thank you” to their passionate work in promoting the application of neuroscience in education!
* Icons used in this post comes from the Noun Project.
Cast.org. (n.d.). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.XEc_189Kh24
Immordino-Yang, Mary Helen. (2015). Emotions, Learning, and the Brain: Exploring the Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Marsh, H. W., and Yeung, A. S. (1997). Causal effects of academic self-concept on academic achievement: structural equation models of longitudinal data. J. Educ. Psychol.89, 41–54. doi: 10.1037/0022-06220.127.116.11
Miller, Michelle. (2018). Neuro, Cognitive and Learning Sciences, Part 1 & 2: Applying Theory to Practice. Online Learning Consortium online workshop, facilitated by two amazing teachers: Dr. Kristen Betts (Drexel University) and Dr. Michelle Miller (
Tokuhama-Espinosa, Tracey. (2018). Neuromyths: Debunking false ideas in education. New York, N.Y. : W.W Norton & Company, Inc.
Vaughan, Tanya. (2017). Tackling the ‘learning styles’ myth. Retrieved from https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/tackling-the-learning-styles-myth