2015: Urban Myths about Learning and Education, 1st Edition

Together with Casper Hulshof I wrote a popular book in Dutch on educational myths in 2013.

In 2015 a whole new, updated and upgraded version will be published internationally by Elsevier/Academic Press, written by myself, prof. Paul A. Kirschner and Casper Hulshof.

The manuscript has been sent in and… check here.


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New research warns: beware of trivial graphs and formulas

We mentioned earlier on that some research suggests that people tend to believe something more if there are brain images included, although the research isn’t that conclusive. Published this week in Public Understanding of Science, the Cornell Food and Brand Lab study found trivial graphs or formulas accompanying medical information can lead consumers to believe products are more effective.

From the press release:

“Your faith in science may actually make you more likely to trust information that appears scientific but really doesn’t tell you much,” said lead author Aner Tal, post-doctoral researcher at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “Anything that looks scientific can make information you read a lot more convincing.”

The study showed that when a graph — with no new information — was added to the description of a medication, 96.6 percent of people believed that the medicines were effective in reducing illness verses 67.7 percent of people who were shown the product information without the graph.

“Even those with professed faith in science were more likely to be swayed by trivial scientific looking product information,” said Tal. “In fact, the more people believed in science, the more they were convinced by the graphs. What this means is that when you read claims about new products, whether it’s a medication or a new technology, you should ask yourself, ‘where does this information come from?’, ‘what’s the basis for the claims being made?’ Don’t let things that look scientific but don’t really tell you much fool you. Sometimes a graph is just a graph!”

Abstract of the research:

The appearance of being scientific can increase persuasiveness. Even trivial cues can create such an appearance of a scientific basis. In our studies, including simple elements, such as graphs (Studies 1–2) or a chemical formula (Study 3), increased belief in a medication’s efficacy. This appears to be due to the association of such elements with science, rather than increased comprehensibility, use of visuals, or recall. Belief in science moderates the persuasive effect of graphs, such that people who have a greater belief in science are more affected by the presence of graphs (Study 2). Overall, the studies contribute to past research by demonstrating that even trivial elements can increase public persuasion despite their not truly indicating scientific expertise or objective support.

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Digital native fallacy: Teachers still know better when it comes to using technology (new study)

It’s a recurring theme on this blog and I’ve just finished a paper as second author on the topic with Paul Kirschner. This new study confirms all the studies we’ve checked for our paper: adults know digital better than kids.

From the press release (bold by me):

Members of today’s younger Net Generation aren’t more tech savvy than their teachers just because they were born into a world full of computers. In fact, if it weren’t for the coaxing and support of their educators, many students would never use their electronic devices for more than playing games or listening to music. So says Shiang-Kwei Wang of the New York Institute of Technology in the US, who led a study on how middle school science teachers and their students use technology inside and outside the classroom. The findings¹ appear in the journal Educational Technology Research & Development², published by Springer.

Wang and her team investigated the technology skills of 24 science teachers and 1,078 middle school students from 18 different schools in two US states. The students surveyed are considered third-generation digital natives, for whom technology access and ownership has become the norm.

Both teachers and students were found to have rich outside-of-school technology experience, but students were not tech savvy in the classroom. Most were not very familiar with information and communication technology or even Web 2.0 tools designed to make information production and sharing easier. Their teachers, on the other hand, depended much more on using technology to solve daily problems, to improve productivity, and as learning aids.

Wang says that this disconnection cannot be linked to how old teachers are or what kind of technology skills they have. The problem rather lies with how little opportunity students get to practice technology beyond pursuing personal interests, such as entertainment. Much depends on how teachers require their students to make use of new technologies, and the ways that these technologies are integrated into teaching. School-related tasks usually require students to use technology limited to researching information and writing papers. Rarely do teachers provide opportunities to allow students to use technology to solve problems, enhance productivity, or develop creativity.

The findings reinforce directions currently being proposed to reduce the gap between how technology is used inside and outside the school setting. High-quality training should be provided to teachers on how they can integrate content-specific technology into their curricula – and how to teach their students how to use technology more effectively in the process.

“School-age students may be fluent in using entertainment or communication technologies, but they need guidance to learn how to use these technologies to solve sophisticated thinking problems,” says Wang. “The school setting is the only institution that might create the needs to shape and facilitate students’ technology experience. Once teachers introduce students to a new technology to support learning, they quickly learn how to use it.”

Abstract of the research:

The purpose of the study is to investigate the popular assumption that the ‘‘digital natives’’ generation surpasses the previous ‘‘digital immigrants’’ generation in terms of their technology experiences, because they grow up with information and com- munication technology. The assumption presumes that teachers, the digital immigrants, are less technology savvy than the digital natives, resulting in a disconnect between students’ technology experiences inside and outside of the formal school setting. To examine the intersection of these generations and their technology experiences, this study used a mixed- methods approach to survey and compare middle school science teachers’ (n = 24) and their students’ (n = 1,060) inside–outside school technology experiences, and conducted focus group interviews to investigate any barriers that prevented them from using tech- nology in school. The findings imply that the concept of digital natives may be misleading and that the disconnect between students’ inside–outside school technology experiences may be the result of the lack of sufficient teacher training concerning technology inte- gration strategies.

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ResearchEd-presentation by Dorothy Bishop on educational neuroscience (video)

Slides for this talk are available here and do check her blog here.

Oh, I sure like her suggestion for kidney-based learning ;).

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How the brain tricks us to believe we have sharp vision (study)

We always need to be careful in believing what we see. We also assume that we can see the world around us in sharp detail. In fact, our eyes can only process a fraction of our surroundings precisely. In a series of experiments, psychologists have been investigating how the brain fools us into believing that we see in sharp detail.

From the press release:

“In our study we are dealing with the question of why we believe that we see the world uniformly detailed,” says Dr. Arvid Herwig from the Neuro-Cognitive Psychology research group of the Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science. The group is also affiliated to the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) of Bielefeld University and is led by Professor Dr. Werner X. Schneider.

Only the fovea, the central area of the retina, can process objects precisely. We should therefore only be able to see a small area of our environment in sharp detail. This area is about the size of a thumb nail at the end of an outstretched arm. In contrast, all visual impressions which occur outside the fovea on the retina become progressively coarse. Nevertheless, we commonly have the impression that we see large parts of our environment in sharp detail.

Herwig and Schneider have been getting to the bottom of this phenomenon with a series of experiments. Their approach presumes that people learn through countless eye movements over a lifetime to connect the coarse impressions of objects outside the fovea to the detailed visual impressions after the eye has moved to the object of interest. For example, the coarse visual impression of a football (blurred image of a football) is connected to the detailed visual impression after the eye has moved. If a person sees a football out of the corner of her eye, her brain will compare this current blurred picture with memorised images of blurred objects. If the brain finds an image that fits, it will replace the coarse image with a precise image from memory. This blurred visual impression is replaced before the eye moves. The person thus thinks that she already sees the ball clearly, although this is not the case.

The psychologists have been using eye-tracking experiments to test their approach. Using the eye-tracking technique, eye movements are measured accurately with a specific camera which records 1000 images per second. In their experiments, the scientists have recorded fast balistic eye movements (saccades) of test persons. Though most of the participants did not realise it, certain objects were changed during eye movement. The aim was that the test persons learn new connections between visual stimuli from inside and outside the fovea, in other words from detailed and coarse impressions. Afterwards, the participants were asked to judge visual characteristics of objects outside the area of the fovea. The result showed that the connection between a coarse and detailed visual impression occurred after just a few minutes. The coarse visual impressions became similar to the newly learnt detailed visual impressions.

“The experiments show that our perception depends in large measure on stored visual experiences in our memory,” says Arvid Herwig. According to Herwig and Schneider, these experiences serve to predict the effect of future actions (“What would the world look like after a further eye movement”). In other words: “We do not see the actual world, but our predictions.”

Abstract of the study:

When we move our eyes, we process objects in the visual field with different spatial resolution due to the nonhomogeneity of our visual system. In particular, peripheral objects are only coarsely represented, whereas they are represented with high acuity when foveated. To keep track of visual features of objects across eye movements, these changes in spatial resolution have to be taken into account. Here, we develop and test a new framework proposing a visual feature prediction mechanism based on past experience to deal with changes in spatial resolution accompanying saccadic eye movements. In 3 experiments, we first exposed participants to an altered visual stimulation where, unnoticed by participants, 1 object systematically changed visual features during saccades. Experiments 1 and 2 then demonstrate that feature prediction during peripheral object recognition is biased toward previously associated postsaccadic foveal input and that this effect is particularly associated with making saccades. Moreover, Experiment 3 shows that during visual search, feature prediction is biased toward previously associated presaccadic peripheral input. Together, these findings demonstrate that the visual system uses past experience to predict how peripheral objects will look in the fovea, and what foveal search templates should look like in the periphery. As such, they support our framework based on ideomotor theory and shed new light on the mystery of why we are most of the time unaware of acuity limitations in the periphery and of our ability to locate relevant objects in the periphery.

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The Missing Link


A critical analysis of Bloom’s taxonomy, or rather of the many ideas derived from this taxonomy. Great phrase to quote “There is no shortcut to understanding and good teachers know this.”

Originally posted on Webs of Substance:

I think that we can all agree that Bloom’s taxonomy is a terrible way of viewing learning. This is not because it really isn’t based on anything. Although it really isn’t; it’s just something that a committee of worthy people made-up. It is not even because Bloom’s tries to generalise the movement from simple to complex across widely different subjects. Clearly, different subjects proceed from simple to complex in their own sweet ways and Bloom’s just encourages whole-staff training meetings where people talk in vague and general terms. However, this is still not the main problem. Talking in vague and general terms might be a waste of time but it is not actively harmful.

No, the problem with Bloom’s is the way that it is interpreted; the way in which, intentionally or otherwise, it encourages people to teach. For instance, here is the current version of Bloom’s taxonomy:


And here is the…

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Study suggests: action video games bolster sensorimotor skills

Sometimes it seems that people think you can only learn how to be bad via action video games although there isn’t a consensus about this aspect. Still we know that reading is probably better for cognitive development, although video games aren’t bad neither for certain cognitive skills. And this new study suggests that people who play action video games such as Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed seem to learn a new sensorimotor skill more quickly than non-gamers do. The study is based on an experiment with a rather little n, but interesting enough to share.

From the press release (bold by me):

A new sensorimotor skill, such as learning to ride a bike or typing, often requires a new pattern of coordination between vision and motor movement. With such skills, an individual generally moves from novice performance, characterized by a low degree of coordination, to expert performance, marked by a high degree of coordination. As a result of successful sensorimotor learning, one comes to perform these tasks efficiently and perhaps even without consciously thinking about them.

“We wanted to understand if chronic video game playing has an effect on sensorimotor control, that is, the coordinated function of vision and hand movement,” said graduate student Davood Gozli, who led the study with supervisor Jay Pratt.

To find out, they set up two experiments. In the first, 18 gamers (those who played a first-person shooter game at least three times per week for at least two hours each time in the previous six months) and 18 non-gamers (who had little or no video game use in the past two years) performed a manual tracking task. Using a computer mouse, they were instructed to keep a small green square cursor at the centre of a white square moving target which moved in a very complicated pattern that repeated itself. The task probes sensorimotor control, because participants see the target movement and try to coordinate their hand movements with what they see.

In the early stages of doing the tasks, the gamers’ performance was not significantly better than non-gamers. “This suggests that while chronically playing action video games requires constant motor control, playing these games does not give gamers a reliable initial advantage in new and unfamiliar sensorimotor tasks,” said Gozli.

By the end of the experiment, all participants performed better as they learned the complex pattern of the target. The gamers, however, were significantly more accurate in following the repetitive motion than the non-gamers. “This is likely due to the gamers’ superior ability in learning a novel sensorimotor pattern, that is, their gaming experience enabled them to learn better than the non-gamers.”

In the next experiment, the researchers wanted to test whether the superior performance of the gamers was indeed a result of learning rather than simply having better sensorimotor control. To eliminate the learning component of the experiment, they required participants to again track a moving dot, but in this case the patterns of motion changed throughout the experiment. The result this time: neither the gamers nor the non-gamers improved as time went by, confirming that learning was playing a key role and the gamers were learning better.

One of the benefits of playing action games may be an enhanced ability to precisely learn the dynamics of new sensorimotor tasks. Such skills are key, for example, in laparoscopic surgery which involves high precision manual control of remote surgery tools through a computer interface.

The research was done in collaboration with Daphne Bavelier who has appointments with both the University of Geneva and the University of Rochester.

Their study is published in the journal Human Movement Science.

Abstract of the study:

Research on the impact of action video game playing has revealed performance advantages on a wide range of perceptual and cognitive tasks. It is not known, however, if playing such games confers similar advantages in sensorimotor learning. To address this issue, the present study used a manual motion-tracking task that allowed for a sensitive measure of both accuracy and improvement over time. When the target motion pattern was consistent over trials, gamers improved with a faster rate and eventually outperformed non-gamers. Performance between the two groups, however, did not differ initially. When the target motion was inconsistent, changing on every trial, results revealed no difference between gamers and non-gamers. Together, our findings suggest that video game playing confers no reliable benefit in sensorimotor control, but it does enhance sensorimotor learning, enabling superior performance in tasks with consistent and predictable structure.

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Funny on Sunday: Increasing Number Of U.S. Toddlers Attending Online Preschool

The Onion is so often great (remember their piece on Teach for America). This satiric news article on toddlers and online school is no exception.

A short fragment:

“With access to their Show-And-Tell message boards, recess timers, and live webcams of class turtle tanks, most toddlers are finding that they can receive the same experience of traditional preschooling from the comfort of their parents’ living room or home office. In addition, most cited the ability to listen to their teacher’s recordings of story time at their own pace as a significant benefit of choosing an online nursery school.”

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Neuromyths, a defense of teachers

I’m writing a lot about urban myths in education (I won’t be pushing our book ;) ) and this week a new study in Nature showed – sadly enough, again – how many teachers believe neuromyths such as left-right brain, learning styles,…

If I seen the press coverage on this and the report itself blames wishfulness, anxiety and a bias towards simple explanations as typical factors that distort neuroscientific fact into neuromyth. Actually, by stating this you could view this as blaming teachers.

The first phrase of our book is an important one:

Many teachers do good work, but all too often on the basis of incorrect theories.

You can’t expect teachers to follow everything that is being published on every single topic in education. You can’t blame them for being professionals looking for solutions for problems they encounter. If there is a situation at hand, they can’t tell their class to wait a couple of weeks until they found a solution. As a good professional a teacher will try, and use what works for them. The irony is that sometimes it works for a different reason they might think. E.g. a teacher adopting learning styles will sometimes be more concrete in his or her teaching (which is good for learning) and will probably be a teacher who is motivated to try new things (which is also good for learning).

This is not blaming teachers, it is telling researchers, people who are supporting teachers, people who are training teachers,…that they have more work on their plate.

I know these people are also very busy and so much under pressure. Researchers are often only rewarded by the studies they publish in journals only other researchers read. I’m a teacher trainer myself and it’s only because my public speeches buy me time, that I can keep working on this blog and that I can keep up with the research being published. My other colleagues don’t have this opportunity.

Still, I think that it’s important to get the correct information, also the correct information on what we don’t know or don’t know for sure, to teachers. They are our front desk, they need it so they can keep doing their great job.

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Interesting extra information on the 70-20-10 myth

I really love blogging, and this reaction on my earlier post on the 70-20-10 myth with extra information by Michelle is an example why I like blogging so much:

maybe a recent quote from an article by DeRue and Myers in The Oxford Handbook of leadership and organization (2014) can shed some light in this discussion:

The existing research on experience-based leadership development spans across a wide range of different types of experiences, including informal on-the-job assignments (McCall et al., 1988), coaching and mentoring programs (Ting & Sciscio, 2006), and formal training programs (Burke & Day, 1986). A common assumption in the existing literature is that 70% of leadership development occurs via on-the-job assignments, 20% through working with and learning from other people (e.g., learning from bosses or coworkers), and 10% through formal programs such as training, mentoring or coaching programs (McCall et al., 1988; Robinson & Wick, 1992).

Despite the popularity of this assumption, there are four fundamental problems with framing developmental experiences in this way. First and foremost, there is actually no empirical evidence supporting this assumption, yet scholars and practitioners frequently quote it as if it is fact. Second, as McCall (2010) appropriately points out, this assumption is misleading because it suggests informal, on-the-job experiences, learning from other people, and formal programs are independent. Yet, these different forms of experience can occur in parallel, and it is possible (and likely optimal) that learning in one form of experience can complement and build on learning in another form of experience. Third, it is inconsistent with the fact that a large portion of organizational investments are directed at formal leadership development programs (O’Leonard, 2010). It is certainly possible that organizations are misguided in their focus on and deployment of these programs (Conger & Toegel, 2003), but we are not ready to condemn formal programs given the lack of empirical evidence. Finally, it is possible that the “70:20:10″ assumption leads organizations to prioritize informal, on-the-job experience over all other forms of developmental experiences, which some scholars argue allows leadership development to become a “haphazard process” (Conger, 1993: 46) without sufficient notice to intentionality, accountability and formal evaluation (Day, 2000).

Kind regards Michelle

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Still a lot of work to do: Prevalence of neuromyths amongst practicing teachers in 5 different international contexts

A new article in Nature on our favorite topic (check out the announcement of our book :) ) with a clear, but depressing chart (HT @dtwillingham):

Read the full article here.

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