Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Lies About Learning?

The world of e-learning/blended learning is a (relatively) new one. Often this means that a lot of folks peddle certain 'truths' about learning which are anything but. One common example is how the idea of different 'learning styles' (visual, audiotory, kinaesthetic) has been completely misunderstood by some educators and has, in some cases, led to wildly inappropriate design of learning programmes. Baroness Greenfield is on the record as saying that she considers the entire 'VAK' thing nothing more than a fad with no scientific basis. Whilst her remarks might seem harsh, anyone who saw the recent hair-raising Newsnight report on how the U.S. invented 'Brain Gym' system is colonising British schools will not be that surprised. See this blog by Donald Clark to see what I mean.

Anyway, another commonly cited myth (particularly amongst 'learning consultants') is the oft-cited 'Cone of Learning' model. The following diagram shows an example:


(taken from here)

Essentially, the 'cone of learning' myth runs as follows:

"We remember…
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we say
90% of what we say and do"

I've seen this break-down trotted out a number of times by 'consultants' and e-learning salesmen. Thing is, it appears to be complete bunkum. A fascinating whitepaper by Cisco entitled 'Multimodal Learning Through Media: What the Research Says' pans this 'cone of learning' theory as pseudo-scientific nonsense. I heartily recommend the white paper for an entertaining and educational read; but on a more serious note, it also draws our attention to how certain myths take hold in our trade and then get repeated over and over, without any academic research or data to back it up.

So, can anyone else think of any other examples of 'truths' about learning which get trotted out again and again?

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