A “Neuromyth” I had suspected for some time

An article on Quartz, “The concept of different “learning styles” is one of the greatest neuroscience myths“, posted on 03 Jan 2016 by Olivia Goldhill, presented the assertion by Paul Howard-Jones, professor of neuroscience and education at Bristol University, that some of what is accepted as neuroscience are actually “neuromyths.” One such neuromyth is that of the existence of learning styles. In simple terms, learning styles are about how we as individuals prefer to receive information. The learning styles framework says that some of us prefer to receive information visually, a smaller percentage prefer to receive information auditorily and the rest kinesthetically. Some have proposed a fourth preference, but those are the basic three, collectively known as the Auditory-Visual-Kinesthetic framework, or AVK. What is widely believed is that people, meaning students, who are more visual tend to receive information more readily if it is presented in visual form, as in notes, books, text, pictures, graphics and so on. Auditory learners would be more drawn to voice recordings, oral instruction and would need to hear themselves saying what they need to learn. Kinesthetic learners receive information best when hands-on learning is used. Videos seem to be quite useful for kinesthetic learners. Now, people like Paul Howard-Jones are saying that frameworks such as “Learning Styles” are actually neuromyths.

avkI had been introduced to the AVK framework around the year 2006/ 2007. When I did the assessment, my scores for A, V and K were almost identical. The bar charts turned out to be almost the same height. I actually remember being given quizzical looks by the one who debriefed me on my AVK scores, even as he hastened to add that “such evenly-distributed scores are not unknown.” Really? I cast my mind back to the days when we trained for warfighting operations. I didn’t remember ever having any preferred style for receiving information in the manner postulated by the AVK framework. Orders for an impending operation were received in both written and oral form. In more recent years, orders and even battle plans could also be sent to your electronic screens. Was that disadvantageous to the auditorily inclined amongst us? However, briefings, “Orders Groups”, “Staff Groups”, etc, would have catered to those favouring the auditory mode of receiving information, would they not? And what about those more kinesthetically inclined? Was it because they were inherently “shy”, “less intelligent” and “needed activity to think”? Not on your life. I found that most people, not just me, benefited from having orders received, disseminated and rehearsals done in all three AVK modes! For instance, if a Built-Up Area (BUA) were to be captured, one of the most important aspects of such an operation would be coordination of the sequence of capture. This would have been covered in written orders, disseminated and clarified auditorily, and definitely rehearsed, or at least played out on a table or sand model, kinesthetically. The video below, which is an extract from a British Forces vintage training film, will give you some idea of the complexities involved. And that exercise didn’t really include civilians, either!

Note: I glanced through this post on 2020-03-10 and found that the video embedded from YouTube was no longer available. You might like to look up similar videos on your own. The British still do a great job with their training films. Or, you might like to watch again the old classics like “A Bridge Too Far” to get an idea of what is needed for planning an operation, how to disseminate and how critical rehearsals are, just for people to get a common idea of what is required.

Do you know of any other “scientific sacred cows”? How have they affected you, and what can you do about it now?

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