Three Things Your Ed Degree (possibly) Got Wrong

I recently had about ten minutes in a content meeting to give a talk on really any subject I wanted. I waffled among retrieval practice, memory processing, spaced practice, et cetera, but ultimately settled on a quick, but focused, talk on myths of learning. And, since many teachers in my department are somewhat new to the profession, I titled it a little ‘attention grabbing’ or maybe just controversial…that is open to your interpretation. 

So, I thought I’d also share the gist of my presentation with everyone. Now, please keep in mind that I only had about ten minutes, so this certainly isn’t a deep dive. Just an introduction to these myths and the ability to look at further resources for more information. 

Before I begin, here’s a link to the slides presentation in its entirety. Access the slides and see the notes for sources and suggested readings.

Three Things Your Ed Degree (possibly) Got Wrong

  1. The first (and maybe the most rampant in the US?) myth is teaching to preferred learning styles.

No matter how many times I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall on twitter (yes, it’s still twitter) or in my own school, this myth just will not die. Not only is there really no evidence supporting the teaching to preferred learning styles, a recently published study going into its negative impact on learning from the viewpoint of student, parent, and teacher. It’s open access and can be accessed here. This myth isn’t just a ‘well, even if we do this and it doesn’t help, at least it doesn’t affect them negatively’ situation. It’s harmful. Stop doing it.

  1. Myth number two involves the learning pyramid. 

I’m happy to report that I haven’t seen the propagation of this myth as much lately. But, nonetheless, it’s still out there…hiding…waiting to pounce on unsuspecting and influential teachers and students. Notice how nice and round the statistics are? Seems too good to be true. Shouldn’t the data be a little messier than that? Turns out the numbers have no basis in experimentation or evidence of any kind. The source attributed to these statistics don’t even know where they came from…they have no records of any kind relating to these retention rates. 

And when you think about it, the numbers don’t even ‘add up’. Is it possible to learn more than 100% of something if I experience the content in more than one medium? If I learn it through a lecture and only remember 5% and then I teach it to someone, am I now retaining 90% of that 5%? And then, are they only remembering 5% of the 90% that I retained of the 5% I originally retained? 

It boggles the mind…and makes no sense. Here’s something I’ve written that expands on this myth.

  1. The third myth involves using discovery and/or inquiry learning as a basis for instruction in the classroom.

I know ‘student-led’ and ‘student ownership of their learning’ sound quite motivating in theory, but these methods often leave the brunt of the instruction of material with the learner and only leads to frustration and erroneous information being disseminated from one student to another. Now, of course, some will say I’m deciding to see discovery and inquiry learning through a tainted lens…and that could be entirely possible. I mean, we all have biases. But, I would not choose to use mechanisms with as many potential downfalls as these methods. The learners are novices and I am the expert. That is not to say their contributions are useless…they are not. But, when it comes to the initial distribution of new information, it needs to come from an expert source. Here’s a great research article discussing why minimal guidance is not optimal.

For more on the idea of how novice and expert learners differ, please check out this article and this article. A great book on these topics and more that is research based and easily accessible is How Learning Happens. I highly recommend all of these resources.


What myths do you see permeating throughout education that has little to no evidence of effectiveness?


Feature Image by Alina Vilchenko: https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-tarot-cards-on-table-3088369/

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