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Educational Myths

Many myths and legends exist around teaching and learning. The internet offers a confusing mix of fact and fiction, sometimes combining both in a single source. Learning myths are almost always ‘misinformation’ (i.e. not deliberately misleading). Nonetheless, they may be used to justify poor training practice.
A unicorn flying above clouds
© Health Education England Creative Commons 4.0 International
Many myths and legends exist around teaching and learning. The internet offers a confusing mix of fact and fiction, sometimes combining both in a single source. Learning myths are almost always ‘misinformation’ (i.e. not deliberately misleading). Nonetheless, they may be used to justify poor training practice.
With many myths and misunderstandings, an element of truth precedes a specious conclusion. In the case of learning styles, it goes something like this:
  • Everyone is different (true)
  • Everyone has personal learning preferences (seems reasonable)
  • Teaching to their preference helps learning (shown to be false)
One reason this has persisted is that many people do express preference for one form of teaching or another. The point is that research findings have consistently shown that teaching to match a preferred style produces no benefit.

Common Educational Myths

‘We only use 10% of our brains’
(disproved by neuroscience and fMRI scans)
‘Visual/Auditory/Kinaesthetic learning styles’
(discredited 2004)
‘Only 7% of communication is words’
(7% words actually refers to whether we believe someone)
‘Reading aloud from a screen makes the information more effective’
(shown to be untrue)
There are many more myths about education explored in the books recommended lower in this step.

How to Debunk a Myth Without Causing Offence

Colleagues or managers who believe a learning myth (such as only using 10% of our brains) or a discredited theory (like learning styles) usually do so with the best of intentions. It helps no-one if such a person is criticised or made to feel inadequate. In fact, a direct criticism of their belief may cause them to further entrench the idea.
There are ways to debunk false information while respecting the individual. One such method is described in the free to download Debunking Handbook. Its authors suggest explaining in the sequence: Fact, Myth, Fallacy, Fact.
For example, if a trainer wishes to reduce the amount of reading aloud in a planned PowerPoint lecture, they might approach it like this:
Fact: Talking while displaying text overloads working memory.
Myth: Showing PowerPoint text while speaking offers information via two routes and so reinforces learning.
Fallacy: This argument falsely assumes that text and speech are processed via separate routes: the eyes and ears. They enter the body separately, but both are processed by the language area of working memory.
This fallacy is similar to the notion that if two trainers talk to learners at the same time but at different speeds, it should result in greater learning.
Fact: Two simultaneous sources of language clash in a learner’s working memory. It can result in less comprehension than a single source.
In attempting to debunk a piece of ‘knowledge’ and replace it with something supported by evidence, you are undertaking a small but important piece of training. However, as we’ve seen, simply explaining something does not guarantee future recall. You may need to debunk a theory more than once.

Evidence-Based Training Information

There are many writers and researchers involved in the research and sharing of evidence-based education methods. Unfortunately, many research articles sit behind journal paywalls. However, that situation is improving with an ever increasing number of open-access papers.
For trainers who wish to avoid myths and access reliable sources of information, we recommend the names below as a starting point for reliable, helpful information and ideas. There are many more, but the following learning professionals feature in many trainers’ ‘go-to’ lists:
Will Thalheimer With insights gained from decades navigating the borders of research and practice, Will Thalheimer has begun to dismantle the antiquated learning-evaluation folklore that has suppressed and hidden our most critical learning outcomes, making it difficult if not impossible to use evaluation for what it’s good for, providing feedback to enable learning improvements.
Julkie Dirksen Juilkie is a leading expert in instructional design, elearning, and behaviour change. She’s a frequent speaker at industry events, the author of one of the bestselling books on instructional design, and an Elearning Guild Guildmaster.
Cathy Moore Cathy Moore is an internationally recognized training designer who wants to save the world from boring instruction. She helps L&D professionals make an impact by solving performance problems and deeply challenging learners. Cathy created the action mapping model of training design that’s used to improve performance by companies worldwide.
Paul Kirschner Paul A. Kirschner is Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology at the Open University of the Netherlands and Guest Professor at Thomas More University of Applied Science in Belgium. An international speaker and researcher, he was also the President of the International Society for the Learning Sciences.
Donald Clark He has over 30 years’ experience in online learning, games, simulations, semantic, adaptive, social media, mobile learning, virtual reality and AI projects. He is an evangelist for the use of technology in learning. He is also a regular (and controversial) blogger (10 years+) on learning technology. Donald’s iconoclastic pieces on learning theory, MOOCs, VR, AI, etc, have attracted lots of attention.

Books for Informed Training

The following books offer an evidence informed approach to training:
Design for How People Learn
Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
Evidence-Informed Learning Design
 
 
Images of the three books recommended above

Educational Myth Books

To find out more about educational myths, these three books provide details and supporting research findings:
Urban Myths about Learning and Education
Millenials, Goldfish & other Training Misconceptions
More Urban Myths about Learning and Education.
Covers of the three 'myths' books mentioned above

Talking point

 
  • Have you ever believed something to do with learning that turned out to be untrue? If so, what was it?
  • How do you ensure your knowledge of teaching and learning is up to date and ‘myth-free’?
© Health Education England Creative Commons 4.0 International
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