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The Brain : Learning and Memory
Chapter 2. HOW WE LEARN The idea that different people have different learning styles is actually a misconception that has become widespread. A 2012 survey of teachers from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, for example, found that more than 90% believed in different learning styles. In fact, although people may have personal preferences as to how they take in information, it’s untrue that an individual learns better through any one particular set of sensory cues. In 2008, an extensive review by cognitive psychologist Dr Harold Pashler and colleagues from the University of California, San Diego assessed decades of research and found no evidence to support the idea that an individual learns more effectively when teaching is tailored to a particular style. The misconception that they do LEARNING STYLES: exposing the myths ARE THERE SUCH THINGS AS ‘VISUAL LEARNERS’ OR ‘AUDITORY LEARNERS’? WHAT DOES THE SCIENCE SAY? WHEN IT COMES to learning, the importance of great teachers can’t be underestimated, not least because teachers have a significant influence on student achievement. Almost everyone can name a teacher who stands out in their memory because they were particularly engaging, encouraging or inspiring. Using data from more than 500,000 studies, Professor John Hattie, Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne and a lead investigator in the Science of Learning Research Centre, conducted a meta-analysis and ranked various influences on student learning and achievement. He found that the impact teachers have on student learning is greater than other factors that often dominate public debate, such as class size, technology, individualised instruction, streaming by ability and changing school calendars or timetables. The influences with the most effect, by far, were teacher-related: both teachers’ expectations for their students and their level of expertise topped the list. For teachers to inspire students, they need to make the effort to understand their own impact and what methods work best in the classroom. In contrast, Prof Hattie found that repeating students, and teachers who have low expectations or label their students according to ability, have low or even negative impacts on learning achievement. Why good teachers matter “is based on a valid research finding, namely that visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic information is processed in different parts of the brain,” explained the authors of the UK–Netherlands study. During learning, as in many other brain activities, these brain areas work with each other rather than in isolation. There is no evidence, however, that these areas work ‘better’ in some people than others to determine overall how each person learns best.