Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Neuroscience and education: myths and messages

Neuromyths, misconceptions of scientific knowledge about the brain, have persisted in the field of education for several decades. For example, studies conducted in five European countries 1,2,3,4 have demonstrated that 93-97% of teachers believe that students learn better in their “preferred” learning style, 71-91% agree that differences in left or right brain dominance are related to individual differences in learning, and 60-88% believe that integration of neural function across the brain’s hemispheres can be improved by brief coordination exercises. Misconceptions like these can lead to ineffective teaching approaches and may influence teachers’ opinions on teaching methods and management of learning disorders. In the current paper, the author discusses the origins of neuromyths and highlights the importance of understanding neuromyths in order to bridge the gap between neuroscience and education. 
Although neuromyths often have some underlying scientific origin, spreading of misinterpretations of these scientific facts can lead to persistent distortions. Often, these misinterpretations are a result of cultural differences between neuroscientists and educators: scientific findings may only be published in neuroscience journals and may be communicated using jargon or terms that are defined differently in education and neuroscience. Neuromyths may also be related to biases towards approaches that are less costly and time-consuming to implement in the classroom, particularly when educational programs are marketed with an underlying scientific basis to boost their credibility.
In recent years collaboration between the fields of neuroscience and education has become more widespread, and scientific insights have begun to inform educational practice. However, many of the biases and conditions underlying the development of neuromyths have continued to influence public misconceptions about the brain. The author calls for more interdisciplinary research and communication between neuroscientists and educators. To work towards bridging the gap between the fields, neuroscientists need to collaborate with educational experts to ensure that neuroscientific insights are accessible, relevant, and can be easily and effectively implemented in the classroom. 

1. Dekker, S., Lee, N. C., Howard-Jones, P. & Jolles, J. (2012) Neuromyths in education: prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in psychology3, 429-429.
2. Deligiannidi, K. & Howard-Jones, P. (2015). The neuroscience literacy of teachers in Greece. Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences, 174. 3909-3915.
3. Karakus, O. & Howard-Jones, P. (2015). Primary and secondary school teachers’ knowledge and misconceptions about the brain in Turkey. Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences, 174. 1933-1940.
4. Pei, X., Zhang, S., Liu, X., Jin, Y. & Howard-Jones, P. (2015). Teachers’ understanding about the brain in East China. Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences, 174. 3680-3688.

Blogger: Alex Cross is completing a combined MClSc and PhD in speech language pathology. Her work focusing on reading will be part of both the Language and Working Memory and the Language, Reading, and Cognitive Neuroscience labs.

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