Letter Signed by Leading Academics Against Educational Neuromyths

Letter Signed by Leading Academics Against Educational Neuromyths

There is widespread interest among teachers in the use of neuroscientific research findings in educational practice(1). However, there are also misconceptions and myths that are supposedly based on sound neuroscience that are prevalent in our schools. We, the undersigned, wish to draw attention to this problem by focusing on an educational practice supposedly based on neuroscience that lacks sufficient evidence and so we believe should not be promoted or supported.

Generally known as “learning styles,” it is the belief that individuals can benefit from receiving information in their preferred format, based on a self-report questionnaire. This belief has much intuitive appeal as individuals are better at some things rather than others and ultimately there may be a brain basis for these differences. Learning styles promises to optimize education by tailoring materials to match the individual's preferred mode of sensory information processing.

There are, however, a number of problems with the learning styles approach. First, there is no coherent framework of preferred learning styles. Usually, individuals are categorized into one of three preferred styles of auditory, visual or kinesthetic learners based on self-reports. One study(2) found that there were over 70 different models of learning styles including among others, "left v right brain," "holistic v serialists," "verbalizers v visualizers" and so on. The second problem is that categorizing individuals can lead to the assumption of fixed or rigid learning style, which can impair motivation to apply oneself or adapt. Finally, and most damning, is that there have been systematic studies of the effectiveness of learning styles that have consistently found either no evidence or very weak evidence to support the hypothesis that matching or “meshing” material in the appropriate format to an individual’s learning style is selectively more effective for educational attainment.(3) Students will improve if they think about how they learn but not because material is matched to their supposed learning style. The Educational Endowment Foundation in the UK has concluded that learning styles is “Low impact for very low cost, based on limited evidence.”(4)

These neuromyths may be ineffectual but they are not low cost. We would submit that any activity that draws upon resources of time and money that could be better directed to evidence-based practices is costly and should be exposed and rejected. Such neuromyths create a false impression of individuals’ abilities leading to expectations and excuses that are detrimental to learning in general which is a cost in the long term.

One way forward is to draw attention to practices that are not evidence-based and to encourage neuroscientists and educationalists to promote the need for critical thinking when evaluating the claims for educational benefits supposedly based on neuroscience. As part of Brain Awareness Week that begins March 13th, we support neuroscientists going into schools to talk about their research but also to raise awareness of neuromyths.

 

 

1. Sanne Dekker, Nikki C. Lee, Paul Howard-Jones and Jelle Jolles (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in Psychology. Vol. 3 article 429.

2. Frank Coffield, David Moseley, Elaine Hall & Kathryn Ecclestone (2004). Should we be using learning styles? What research has to say to practice. Learning and Skills Research Centre.

3. Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork (2008). Learning styles: concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Vol. 9, 105-119.

4. https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/resources/teaching-learning-...

 

Signatories

Professor Bruce Hood

Chair of Developmental Psychology in Society

Founder of Speakezee

University of Bristol

 

Professor Hal Pashler

Distinguished Professor of Psychology

UC San Diego

 

Professor Paul Howard-Jones

Chair of Neuroscience and Education

University of Bristol

 

Professor Dame Uta Frith

Emeritus Professor,

Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging

University College London

 

Professor Steven Pinker

Johnstone Professor of Psychology

Harvard University

 

Professor Susan Carey

Henry A. Morss Jr. & Elizbeth W. Morss Professor of Psychology

Harvard University

 

Dr Peter Etchells

Senior Lecturer in Biological Psychology

Bath Spa University

 

Dr. Nathalia Gjersoe

Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology

University of Bath

 

Professor Gaia Scerif

Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience

University of Oxford

 

Dr Sara Baker

Lecturer in Psychology and Education

University of Cambridge

 

Dr Matthew Wall

Division of Brain Sciences

Imperial College London

 

Dr Jon Simons

Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience

University of Cambridge

 

Professor Dorothy Bishop

Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology

University of Oxford

 

Dr Michelle Ellefson

Senior Lecturer in Psychology & Education

University of Cambridge

 

Dr Ashok Jansari

Lecturer in Cognitive NeuropsychologyGoldsmiths,

University of London

 

Dr Molly Crockett

Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology

University of Oxford

 

Professor Kate Nation

Professor of Experimental Psychology

University of Oxford

 

Professor Michael Thomas

Director, University of London Centre for Educational Neuroscience

Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience

Birkbeck, University of London

 

Dr Nikhil Sharma

Honorary Consultant Neurologist & Senior Clinical Researcher (MRC)

The National Hospital of Neurology, Queen Square, London .

 

Dr. David Whitebread

PEDAL Research Centre

University of   Cambridge

 

Professor Frank Coffield

Emeritus Professor of Education

University College Institute of Education

University of London

 

Professor Mark Sabbagh

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Queen’s University at Kingston

Canada

 

Dr. Cristine Legare

Associate Professor of Psychology

The University of Texas at Austin

 

Dr. Joseph T. Devlin

Head of Experimental Psychology

University College London

 

Professor Peter Gordon

Program Director, Neuroscience and Education

Teachers College, Columbia University

 

Professor David Poeppel

Director, Department of Neuroscience

Max-Planck-Institute, Frankfurt

 

Professor Brian Butterworth

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience

Centre for Educational Neuroscience

University College London 

 

Professor Anil Seth

Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science

School of Engineering and Informatics

University of Sussex

 

Dr Tom Foulsham

Reader in Psychology

University of Essex

 

Dr James Williams

Lecturer in Education

University of Sussex

 

Professor Gedeon Deák

Professor of Cognitive Science and Human Development

UC San Diego

 

Professor Diana Laurillard

Professor of Learning with Digital Technology

UCL Knowledge Lab,

University College London

 

Sir Colin Blakemore

Professor of Neuroscience and Philosophy

Director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses,

University College London