Learning Myths, Pseudo-Myths, Exaggeration and Hype

If the profession of cognitive psychology and its application to learning is a science (as some of us think it is or should be), then there needs to be research evidence to back up our claims about which learning strategies work and which do not. Unfortunately, the profession of adult learning is prone to myths, pseudo-myths, outright falsehoods, unjustified claims, hype and exaggeration. As an educational psychologist this saddens me.

It is important to note that labelling a widely held belief a “myth” does not mean it is outright false. Sometimes, there is research evidence to support the belief, but the initial finding is overgeneralized or hyped beyond its domain of validity. Who is responsible for this? Unfortunately, it is often the vendor community that makes these exaggerated claims. The reason why is obvious: They have products to sell and making exaggerated claims about the need for the products helps create product demand. I find this very unfortunate, as I work for a vendor myself.

We know enough about cognitive psychology that we should be able to justify the efficacy of our products without resorting to scare tactics and/or exaggeration.

In this ongoing series, we will examine some of these learning myths and subject them to professional scrutiny. Some of the claims we label as myths may surprise you. (Keep in mind, labeling a claim a “myth” doesn’t mean it is entirely false. Sometimes that may be the case, but other times the kernel of truth that the claim represents has been overgeneralized beyond the initial valid finding.)

Among the “myths” and “pseudo-myths” we will examine are:

  • The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve
  • Dale’s Cone of Experience
  • 70:20:10
  • The shrinking attention span of millennials
  • Microlearning leads to better remembering
  • The “arousal” effect
  • Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text
  • Learning objectives improve learning
  • You should create instruction to match someone’s learning style
  • Left brain vs. right brain thinkers
  • We use only 10% of our brains
  • It is possible to multitask
  • Brain training games improve cognitive performance

When I teach my “Science of Learning” workshops, I sometimes get strong reactions to some of the learning beliefs I label as “myths.” I find that some people are strongly vested in certain learning strategies. So, we would really like to hear from our readers with their reactions to this series. Agree? Disagree? Either is fine, but let’s hear your thoughts!

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