Sometimes I just want to start throwing things: myths in education – Pedro De Bruyckere

MAY 21, 2012 · 8:02 AM

By: Pedro De Bruyckere

Sometimes I just want to start throwing things: myths in education

I love people discussing education. It means they are concerned, it means they care about how children and youngsters are being thought. Sad thing is that quite often you still hear things that are in fact popular myths that have been debunked by science for years. Even more sad is that while I can understand this from someone who hasn’t studied educational sciences or who isn’t a teacher, I often read this kind of myths even in textbooks used in teacher training!

Ok, just to help out, some examples of myths that I have heard over and over again and sometimes make me feel I just want to start throwing things:

  • The Learning Pyramid

    To me this is the Loch Ness monster of education. Sometimes this pyramid is quoted as the Glasser pyramid, but this a first mistake, as Glasser has nothing to with it. More correct sources are Edgar Dale or NTL.
    But rather never quote this pyramid, ever. The first version was actually designed by Dale, but lacked the percentages.  It would be strange to find such neat percentages in research, so we can assume the percentages are made up even more because the research data that it allegedly is  based on can’t be retraced. Do check this blogpost for a nuanced review of the myth and this is one of the very few scientific works on the pyramid  by Lalley and Miller.
  • Learning styles
    They sound so logic, we feel they are right. People who rather learn visual or rather by listening. Maybe the types that Kolb described? One problem, science hasn’t been able to proof they exist and if you take them into account while teaching, they don’t have effect. Interesting reads: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior by Lilienfeld et al and Visible learning by Hattie, or just watch this video:
  • Left or right brain thinking
    This myth is becoming more and more popular when discussing reforms in education. Sadly, again, it’s a true myth. Lisa Collier Cool points out in her article for Yahoo Health, we’re not really right- or left-brained at all:

    This myth began in the 1800s, where doctors discovered that injury to one side of the brain frequently caused loss of specific abilities. Brain scan experiments, however, show that the two halves of the brain are much more intricately linked than was originally thought, so problem-solving or creative tasks fire up activity in regions of both hemispheres of the brain, not just half. It is true that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice versa, so a right-brain injury can cause disability on the left side of the body.

    Do check some more brain myths on Lifehacker.

  • Give me more, please?
    In this paper by Paul A. Kirschner: ICT Myth Busting: Education is Not a Question of Belief, I Believe! you can find even more popular educational myths, namely:

    • Old learning doesn’t connect – Kids multitask
    • Learning results are low – It’s going wrong
    • The info-society requires different learning – Discovery learning
    • Teachers can implement inquiry learning
    • Education should mimic MTV – Homo zappiens
    • Society is more involved – student initiative

    Abstract of the paper:

    Mark Twain once said that “In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand and without examination”. Unfortunately this appears also to be true in present day use of ICT in education.
    Educational technologists, educational reformers, local and federal politicians, school managers, and advisory groups are all jockeying to show how innovative and up to date they can be, based not upon science but upon beliefs. As a result of this implementation of change based upon beliefs or philosophies, we now find teachers, parents and students revolting against many of these so called innovations. And the newspapers, television, and other mass-media are having a field day reporting all of this. And what is the root of all of this? The reforms that we often see are most often not based on science (and specifically the cognitive sciences) and/or good scientific research, but rather upon beliefs, plausible sounding rationale and/or arguments, poorly designed research and the strange idea that ‘stagnation means decline’. The reaction to these reforms – though it uses the word evidence – is also based upon beliefs about how education and educational research is and should be carried out. In my keynote I will look at both sides of the coin from the perspective.


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