West Bend East High School
Great Myths of Education and Learning
Author: Jeffrey D. Holmes
ISBN: 978-1-118-70939-9 (Paperback)
APA Style Citation
Holmes, J. (2016). Great Myths of Education and Learning. Chichester, West Sussex:
Wiley & Sons, Inc.
How many times have you heard something about using learning styles or being too left-brained? Sometimes components of researching findings become pervasive in the world of education even though they lack sound scientific research. This book looks at sixteen popular myths concerning education and learning. The content is dense and various studies are presented, addressing both sides of the myth. A scientific claim should not be based on the finding of a single study, but rather a combination of studies all of which find fairly consistent results. Existing studies should be combined through meta-analysis to find reliable patterns and limit potential bias. Through this sound research method, hopefully, a more complete picture is formed regarding a specific scientific claim. The summaries below provide a basic understanding of the findings presented in the book.
Myth 1: Students are accurate judges of how much they know
Have you been told to empower your students and ask them how they learn best? Student empowerment is important but students, especially low-achieving students, tend to be overconfident and do not recognize what learning strategies are most effective. When material feels easy and quickly comes to mind, students falsely believe they understand the information well. In addition, after reviewing assessments, they fall victim to hindsight bias. Familiarity increases their confidence, leading to a false assessment of their knowledge. Without an accurate ability to gauge performance, students are less efficient and do not study effectively.
Myth 2: Students learn better when teaching methods are matched with their learning styles
We have all sat through an in-service that demands we learn our students’ learning styles, but does it really matter? A common claim supported by educators, parents, and students is that instruction which matches students’ learning preferences leads to more successful learning. To date, over 71 different learning style models have been identified, and the most common ones include the senses (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic). However, few scientifically sound studies support matching instruction to these preferences. The studies lack reliability and appropriate assessments. Rather than using specific sensory modes to store content, most successfully learned memories are semantic in nature. It has been found that students can use many different learning strategies when the specific content calls for it.
Myth 3: Lecturing is broadly inferior to other teaching methods
We are told, “Stop lecturing!” yet our students beg for it. Should we lecture? Lectures compared to alternative teaching methods often reveal no significant difference in learning. Many arguments center on the loss of attention span after 10-15 minutes. However, few scientific studies support this statement. A quick resetting of attention can easily get students back on track. The lecture actually offers several advantages, including its efficiency for significant amounts of novel material. On the contrary, lectures lack effectiveness when it comes to attaining applied skills or communication skills. It should be noted that classroom research is challenging due to a lack of control and experimenter bias. Also, lecturing is very difficult to define operationally.
Interestingly, instructors often negatively associate lectures with effectiveness. In contrast, students view lecturing as one of the most effective learning strategies. Studies reveal that high achieving students prefer lectures. In addition, structured lectures seem to help low-achieving students, as well as those students with high anxiety. While preferences are not the best evaluation tool, student perception does play a role in a successful classroom. Ultimately, effective teaching is partly the teaching method and the preferences in the classroom.
Myth 4: Using PowerPoint in the classroom improves student learning
PowerPoint has become the new overhead projector, but does it really work? Many students believe that PowerPoint leads to effective learning, but studies find no significant advantage compared to other presentations. When students focus too much on elaborate slides, PowerPoint can actually hurt student performance. However, students report the method as being more interesting, more organized, and more enjoyable. They believe they take better notes and have increased confidence. Interestingly, this increased confidence leads to a halo effect and improves students’ perception in other areas of the course as well. There is little empirical evidence that PowerPoint affects student learning, but once again it is necessary to take student perception into account.
Myth 5: Minimally guided instruction is superior to traditional direct instruction
How many times have you heard that you should be using problem-solving learning? Minimally guided instruction is founded on the constructivist learning philosophy. According to this theory, it is believed that knowledge must be based on personal experiences in the world, not gained through direct instruction. However, there is no empirical evidence that leaving students to their own devices provides more effective learning. Studies have found that direct instruction can be successful for students at all levels, for verbal and social skills, and increased performance on immediate and delayed tests. Problem-solving teaching strategies utilize a very limited working memory. When one’s ability to problem-solve is at capacity students will struggle with learning. This is especially true for low-achieving students. Most likely a balanced approach of direction instruction and discovery would work best.
Myth 6: Rewards always undermine students’ intrinsic motivation
Has your school been consumed by a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) plan? Various empirical findings support that rewards can increase intrinsic motivation, but with certain contingencies. As is stated by the overjustification hypothesis, expected tangible rewards for simply engaging in an activity of high interest reduces intrinsic motivation. While this is true, it has been found that intrinsic motivation actually increases with verbal praise. Also, an expected tangible reward is not detrimental if it is based on the quality of the task as opposed to participation. However, research has found that rewards for simply performing the task actually increases intrinsic motivation for low-achieving students. Lab research does not always generalize to the classroom; however, researchers agree that rewards do not always reduce intrinsic motivation.
Myth 7: Multitasking does not inhibit academic performance
How many of your students are addicted to their cellphone? Technology is everywhere, and young people are easily tempted by it. Some argue that young people, born since 1980, may be able to multitask more efficiently than members of past generations. Young people believe they can successfully multitask. Some even think it helps them focus and complete homework. However, none of these statements are supported by research. Switching tasks results in slower performance and increased errors. Completing homework with the TV on in the background takes longer. It was also found that students watching other students multitask learned significantly less than those who could not see other students multitasking. When others control the content, multitasking is even more challenging.
While multitasking, performance usually declines as the difficulty of the task increases. However, one study found that multitasking students took longer to read, but did not have lower performance. While learning may not be affected, few high school students have the extra time that it takes to multitask.
Myth 8: People are either left-brained or right brained
I am sure you have heard of the vocabulary learning technique that utilizes both sides of your brain; self-made definitions invoke the left-hemisphere, while drawings activate the right hemisphere. Many educators support the claim that differences in hemispheric dominance can explain learning differences. Early research grabbed everyone’s attention but lacked the ability to generalize to the general population. Early split-brain research utilized unique brains and usually had very limited sample sizes. Current research with brain-imaging technology supports that both hemispheres are necessary for various functions. Greater hemispheric lateralization has been found only in people of low-achieving ability. Furthermore, the statements supporting a brain dichotomy are often oversimplified, and neuroscience has been incorrectly applied to the world of education and business.
Myth 9: There are many independent varieties of intelligence
The number of intelligences has been debated for years. Sir Francis Galton was the first to talk of general intelligence, but it was Charles Spearman that was able to identify it statistically through factor analysis. The g factor is probably one of the most studied traits in the history of intelligence in psychology. Several theorists have offered opposing models supporting specific intelligences. Howard Gardner’s theory has caught on with educators due to its ability to identify all children as being special. However, the theory has several pitfalls. It utilizes eight criteria to find separate intelligences, but they are not always consistently applied. Also, there is no specific assessment that can measure each specific intelligence. Currently, most tests are based on self-report and still measure general intelligence. Empirical evidence does not support the existence of many separate intelligences.
Myth 10: Self-esteem improves academic performance
In order to excel you have to feel good about yourself, right? There is a small, positive correlation between self-esteem and academic performance. However, it often shrinks when other environmental factors are controlled. Self-esteem is studied most often in the United States, an individualistic culture. One strategy, self-evaluation educational interventions, needs to be used with caution because it can actually reduce performance. Interestingly, Americans have enjoyed increased self-esteem scores in recent decades but have witnessed a decrease in the average SAT score. Research supports that academic self-concept is a better predictor of performance than self-esteem.
Myth 11: Repetition is a highly effective study strategy
Tight on time before a test? Everyone has probably utilized the study strategy of rereading a text, and it can enhance learning to a degree. The benefits of rereading are greatest the first time the content is reread and immediately tested, but little enhancement is achieved when testing is delayed after rereading content. In addition, high-achieving students benefit the most from rereading a second time. Most of these findings have been found in the laboratory and need to be questioned before being generalized to the classroom.
While rereading is not that effective, there are study methods to increase performance. The most effective method is the testing effect. Practice testing leads to better performance on similar future tests than restudying the content. The benefits of practice testing can occur using a variety of test formats, even when the final test is a different format. This finding has held up across a wide range of ages and abilities. Two additional effective study methods include elaborative interrogation and self-explanation. Both are effective but require more time. Students have limited time, but will hopefully recognize the powerful ability of practice testing to increase retention.
Myth 12: Multiple-choice exams are inferior to other exam formats
Essay exams take time to grade and have concerns of inter-rater reliability, but can a multiple-choice test really measure all aspects of student knowledge? Even though students are exposed to misinformation via the multiple-choice format, the testing effect is increased by providing feedback no matter if it is immediate or delayed. Scientific studies find that both testing formats, multiple-choice and essay, assess similar abilities and students perform at similar levels on both parts of an exam.
Many concerns with multiple-choice tests are not supported by scientific findings. It is believed that essay tests measure higher levels of thinking, but often they do not. Before we abandon multiple-choice tests, let’s make sure that the new exam format actually provides a better performance indicator.
Myth 13: Students should not change answers on multiple-choice exams
Many of your students have probably heard of the first instinct fallacy; once you select an answer on a test, it is best not to change it. Scientific studies show that usually students, especially high-achieving students, benefit from changing their answer as long as they are not just guessing. If you re-evaluated or better understand the questions, then the odds are in your favor to make the change.
As is often the case, students’ perceptions do not match the research. Even when trained to change their answers, they still believed that it would lead to a lower exam score. The circumstance when changing your answer did not work is more memorable thanks to the availability heuristic. Don’t stress your students out during the exam, but share the possible benefits of changing answers well in advance.
Myth 14: Coaching produces large gains in college admission test scores
As any high school student wanting to attend college knows, the SAT and ACT are a common hurdle one must first pass. Studies suggest that coaching can increase student SAT scores. However, there are many confounding variables. Coaching time becomes confused with coaching methods. In addition, a certain type of student seeks academic coaching. These concerns, as well as a lack of random assignment, call these scientific findings into question.
Myth 15: Standardized tests do not predict academic performance
We have all heard that story about a young person who did poorly on the SAT or ACT but excelled in college. The problem is that story is not the norm and only shows that the correlation is not perfect. Almost all studies support that there is a significant positive correlation between standardized tests for college admission and first-year college GPA. Critics question the validity of the assessment due to range restriction and reliability. However, after correcting for these issues, as well as socioeconomic status, the SAT still had predictive validity.
Myth 16: Standardized ability tasks are biased against some minority groups
The average group differences in IQ has spurred concerns about cultural bias in testing. If a test measures different things for people within different groups, it is biased. However, research has not been able to find anyone, including experts that can find biased test items based on content. In addition, the claim that tests underpredict for minority members has not been demonstrated. Studies have actually found an overprediction for most minority groups. The origin and meaning of intelligence is a complex issue that is heavily debated. To date, empirical evidence does not support a testing bias against minority groups.
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Sir Francis Galton
B. F. Skinner
L. L. Thurstone
Confounding of Variables
Correlation (Positive, Modest)
Dichotic Listening Study
Expressive vs. Receptive Language
Generalizability of Research
Individualistic Cultural Belief
Learning Styles: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic
Multitasking or Task Switching
“Psychological Refractory Period”
Positive Emotions- Left Hemisphere
“Prodigy” or “Idiot Savant”
Visual Field Study
Other Related Resources
Great Myths of Psychology Series
Erber, J. T., & Szuchman, L. T. (2014). Great Myths of Aging. Chichester, West Sussex:
Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN: 978-1-118-52145-8
Hupp, S., & Jewell, J. (2015). Great Myths of Child Development. Chichester, West
Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN: 978-1-118-52122-9
Jarrett, C. (2014). Great Myths of the Brain. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.
Johnson, M. D. (2016). Great Myths of Intimate Relationships: Dating, Sex, and
Marriage. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN: 978-1-118-52128-1
Lilienfeld, S. 0., Lynn, S. J., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstein, B. L. (2009). 50 Great Myths of
Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions About Human Behavior. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN : 978-1-4051-3112-4
Series Website www.wiley.com/go/psychmyths
Britt, M. A. (2009, December 27). Episode 113: Interview with Scott Lilienfeld on the 50 great myths of popular psychology [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.thepsychfiles.com/
Willis, J. (2015). The High Cost of Neuromyths in Education. Edutopia, http://www.edutopia.org/. Retrieved on July 26, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/high-costs-neuromyths-in-education-judy-willis