Leland Teschler • Executive Editor
On Twitter @ DW_LeeTeschler
You might think educators would know a lot about what works when it comes to teaching. But recent events seem to show that educators’ confident pronouncements about teaching methods are largely baseless. That’s a distressing development for engineers who have children in school and for professionals who spend generous amounts of their own time learning new skills to advance their careers.
The first misconception about learning pertains to the supposed benefits of using technology in the classroom. A warning comes from Dr. Devra Davis who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and has been a holder of various academic positions for 40 years. Davis points out that for younger students, there’s no evidence that tech devices such as laptops and VR headsets lead to better education.
When kindergarteners are given iPads, she says, measurements show they simply do not absorb the information as well as students educated with traditional methods. And achievement test scores in schools that rely heavily on digital learning systems are substantially lower than those of other schools. Even worse, student vision also suffers from focusing on screens. And growing numbers of children end up needing eyeglasses at younger ages.
Davis also says fast-changing vivid images flashing before young eyes from small screens can elicit states of hyperarousal. She posits that too much screen time might explain why more and more middle school children are being treated for attention deficit disorder, depression, headaches, eye strain, and hearing problems.
The evidence of damaging effects has led to a growing backlash against using tech in the lower grades. But educators have other misconceptions that lead to daffy pronouncements about learning. So says a report called Neuromyths and Evidence-based practices in higher education, authored by an organization called the Online Learning Consortium. The report says a growing body of research indicates that many of the underlying beliefs educators hold about learning are based on myth and misunderstanding – particularly in regard to the brain. Researchers found that educators they queried, most of whom reside in the U.S., held a number of false notions, including that listening to classical music increases reasoning ability (There’s no evidence of this.), that we only use 10% of our brain (No.), and that individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (auditory, visual, kinesthetic).
The latter delusion is particularly interesting. Several studies have debunked the idea of tailoring teaching methods to learning styles. Perhaps most recently, an investigation described in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education surveyed hundreds of students about their learning style using a standard questionnaire developed to discern how people crack the books. The survey then gave them study strategies designed to correlate with the learning style revealed by the questionnaire. Researchers found that students did not study in ways that seemed to reflect their learning style, and that those who did tailor their studying to suit their style didn’t do any better on their tests.
The moral of this story might be that educators are just as prone to believing in myths as the rest of the population. When it comes to new teaching methods, it pays to be skeptical.