How useful is the idea of “learning styles”?

Smith, Chloe

ET

Toppo, G. (2019, January 9). ‘Neuromyth’ or Helpful Model? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/01/09/learning-styles-debate-its-instructors-vs-psychologists

This article describes the divide between advocates and critics of the idea that different individuals have different “learning styles,” while pointing out that the theory, while popular with many educators, has been largely debunked by scientists. Toppo points out that the idea is not supported by current psychologists and educational researchers. He quotes Scott Barry Kaufman’s argument that belief in learning styles can actually be a “harmful myth,” since it encourages students to have fixed mindsets about what and how they can learn. On the other side, educators who support the idea of learning styles say it’s about encouraging students identify their preferences, not their inherent abilities. Toppo concludes by pointing out that, while the idea of learning styles is a limited and inaccurate paradigm, the larger context is that different ways of learning are appropriate to different tasks. The important thing is to individualize instruction and present information is multiple ways.

I found this article to be a clear overview of current thinking on the topic of learning styles. It is geared towards educators at the college level, but the ideas are relevant to teaching and learning in a wide array of venues.

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The Brain Science of Making

Lepine, Sierra.

ET

McQuinn, Conn. (2018). “The Brain Science of Making.” School Library Journal. Retrieved from https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=brain-science-of-making

A 5 point argument on the benefits of making for learning, all through the lens of neuroscience.

I loved this article as a scientifically-based argument for making as an intrinsically powerful tool to enhance learning. Hard to argue with a list of reasons based in neurophysiology all indicating how making leads to better learning. I particularly enjoyed the homunculi pictures showing a visual representation of how important various parts of our body are to our brain, neurologically speaking – as a small spoiler, our hands are by far and away the possessors of most motor and sensory neurons, and therefore really quite significant to our brains!

Exploring mindfulness and meditation for the elementary classroom

Jane Rollin

ET/IL

Routhier-Martin, K. , Roberts, S. K. & Blanch, N. (2017). Exploring mindfulness and meditation for the elementary classroom: Intersections across current multidisciplinary research. Childhood Education, 93(2), 168-175. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00094056.2017.1300496.


This is a review of psychology research that provides evidence that meditation and mindfulness work to balance the often negative effects of students’ social-emotional environments, stress, anxiety, and even poverty.

“Overall, the study finds the advantages as corroborated across disciplines encourage use of mindfulness and meditation exercises or schoolwide programs to achieve improved student behavior and academic benefits.”

When we let technology do our thinking for us

Anthony Devine


When reading The Shallows, Nicolas Carr referenced the work of Van Nimwegen & Van Oostendorp (2008). Basically, Van Nimwegen & Van Oostendorp show that the more a tech interface guides a user to do a task, the less the user actually internalizes and learns the task. In other words: the easier that technology makes a task, the less the learning “sticks” in our brains. Or, to use the term in the title and the term Dr. L. prefers: the more technology guides us in a task, the less ability we have to transfer what we learned in that task.

I think this has implications for education technology and for information literacy. When designing learning experiences for students, we should be mindful of the danger of having students do things that simply do not require much thinking, much internalization. And as to information literacy, we should be careful to let our social media feeds to our thinking for us when it comes to what information to perceive as valid/invalid.

Technology is fantastic, but we still need to think for ourselves.

Resources:
Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton.

Van Nimwegen, C., & Van Oostendorp, H. (2008). The questionable impact of an assisting interface on performance in transfer situations. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics. Retreived from: http://dx.doi.org.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/10.1016/j.ergon.2008.10.008

Why you think you’re right, even when you’re wrong

Anthony Devine


Julia Galef’s blog post is is also the topic of a TED Talk:
https://embed.ted.com/talks/julia_galef_why_you_think_you_re_right_even_if_you_re_wrong
Galef does a great job explaining motivated thinking. This is another source that helps us see that we are not as logical as we like to think we are. The implication for information literacy is to be mindful of how our worldview colors what we choose to believe and what we choose to discard.

Resource:
Galef, J. (2017, March 9). Why you think you’re right, even when you’re wrong. Ideas.TED.com. Retrieved from http://ideas.ted.com/why-you-think-youre-right-even-when-youre-wrong

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain

Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton.

Anthony Devine


I am a strong supporter of the idea that technology can amplify learning. From that perspective, when I started reading this book I did so very much against the grain. I had heard about this Nicolas Carr, who apparently opposed technology and the flow of inevitable progress that technology promises. However, I tried to be mindful of my bias so that I would be able to afford Carr’s ideas a fair chance. As Daniel Kahneman would say, I recognized that the information in this book might not fit into my perception of reality, so I activated my “System 2” in order to more objectively weigh the ideas Carr’s book presented.

While I didn’t agree with everything Carr wrote, I have to admit that Carr makes some very useful observations about how technology is evolving compared to how the human brain functions.

Carr’s most memorable observations:

  • Our interaction with information online is… wait for it… shallow. We don’t get deep into ideas online.
  • The web interface is distracting–it taxes our cognitive load. For example, all those notifications and ads as well as the constant influx of information, all those each add a little more to our cognitive load. Carr explains a little bit about cognitive load theory, specifically, that our ability to comprehend and evaluate information effectively becomes diminished the more our attention is divided (and the online world divides our attention significantly).
  • Technology–the online interface–rewards very shallow interactions: the share, the like, the retweet. Those shallow interactions with information are often substituted for actual understanding and evaluation. But the human brain LOVES this kind of interaction. The brain enjoys seeking patterns. And the pattern of posting or re-posting something that other people like and share and getting notifications on that behavior… our brain just loves that. Moreover, this is part of what leads us to gravitate toward like-minded people and information sources online. This is part of how we develop our social media filter bubbles. “Look how many people within my social media circle liked and shared my post! I must be right, everyone agrees! Anyone who disagrees with this idea must be a fringe, outsider who doesn’t see common sense.
  • Humans anthropomorphize technology. We have a dangerous tendency to give human-like qualities to non-humans. Without sounding too much like a paranoid conspiracy theorist: the goals of technology are not necessarily the goals of humanity. For now, technology is our tool. But if we continue to develop the ability of technology to think for itself, and combine that with our tendency to think of technology as living and thinking, then we face a future where we are the tools of technology–rather than the other way around.
  • Finally, the most alarming observation by Carr: The human brain adapts to the tools it has available. The theory of neuroplasticity says that the brain changes to better function within its environment. This is a primary reason why we developed as the dominant life form on our planet. However, Carr makes the claim that technology is causing our brains to adapt in ways that are rewarded by technology: technology encourages us to adapt to shallow interactions with information.
In my opinion, kind of scary stuff. Carr seems to recognize, though, that technology is here to stay, and it certainly isn’t going to be slowing down any time soon. His advice, similar to Daniel Kahneman’s, is to be mindful of when you are interacting with information shallowly, and to be willing to dive more deeply into a topic when it is something that is truly important. Avoid the temptation of allowing technology to “think” for you. Technology is a lot of things, but it is not a replacement for human wisdom.

Clues to help us understand what we’re up against when it comes to our cognitive flaws

Kahneman, D. (2011). 
Thinking, fast and slow.

Anthony Devine


I really wanted to understand why we humans seem to be so bad at information literacy. Why is it that so often we are duped into believing things that are not true? All the blame can’t be directed at technology, which facilitates insidious misinformation campaigns. There must be something about how we process information that is flawed.

In short, there is a flaw in how we process information. To state it briefly, we form models of reality, our brains work to confirm that model of reality by making choices concerning what information to accept (information that confirms our reality), and what information to discard (information that uncomfortably challenges our model of reality). Of course, that isn’t to say that minds never change. They do–often! However, the amount of cognitive focus required for our minds to always evaluate decisions and beliefs objectively, fairly… well, our brains simply did not evolve in a way to make that kind of thinking easy for us. It’s much easier for our brains to develop worldviews, biases, heuristics that usually seem to be right. And then, proceed to make decisions based on those heuristics.

Daniel Kahneman’s provides a fantastic framework for better understanding how people make choices and how the brain works. He goes into great detail concerning the many ways that humans simply do not make logical choices. We are not high quality information processors!

For the purposes of how Kahneman’s work relates to information literacy, I would suggest focusing on part 3 of his book: Overconfidence. Kahneman does an excellent job describing his research into the ways we are overconfident concerning what we believe. In many ways, the world makes a lot less sense that we pretend it does, and we are a lot less logical than we like to think we are.