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My Learning Mistakes
September 9, 2010 - 9:45pm

I'm in the learning business, which makes my tendency to slip into "schoolyard folk wisdom, or empty theorizing" about learning less forgivable. Apparently, some of the things I thought I knew about how the brain learns are just wrong. Check out "Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits," by Benedict Carey for the NYTimes (9/6/10). 3 specifics that I've (falsely) incorporated into my mental map of brain learning include:

  • The importance of learning styles.
  • The importance of teaching styles.
  • The importance of a dedicated learning space.

The article points to a recent review of the relevant learning research that found "found almost zero support" for the existence of distinct learning styles. I've been talking for years about visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners - turns out the research does not support anything I've been saying about the need to match teaching with learning styles.

Nor has research been able to identify a particular teaching style that can reliably create authentic learning, or conversely a teaching style that works against learning. When it comes to teaching, style seems to be less important than structure and organization. Many different teaching styles can result in good learning outcomes, as long as students have the opportunity to actively work with the materials and concepts.

The other point of the article that really sticks with me is the reporting on the research about a dedicated learning space. Turns out that studying in a different places may assist with long-term retention. As Carey puts it, "The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time……regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious…Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding. "

I'm not surprised that I'm often and deeply wrong about learning and the brain, as I've learned enough about learning and the brain to understand what a common condition being wrong is. It is very difficult to dislodge existing beliefs and prior knowledge - even when these beliefs and knowledge fail to match any subsequent evidence.

Part of my rationale for writing this blog is that I know that only through the act of writing what I've learned will I move this information into my long-term memory. Blogging is active learning.

All of us involved in the learning technology need to find ways of keeping up with our evolving understanding of the brain and learning.

How do you keep learning about the brain?


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