Our book, Urban Myths about Learning and Education, out now!

It has been a long wait (and lots of work) for Paul, Casper and myself, but now our book is on sale!

You can order the book here both in paper and as e-book, but you can buy also at

A review of our book:

“A marvelous compendium of plausible-sounding ideas about education that have seeped into popular culture, but have little or no scientific support. Carefully documented yet a pleasure to read, this book should be required reading in all teacher training programs.” -Daniel T. Willingham, Professor, University of Virginia


Filed under Book

Does being bilingual makes you smarter? (review-video)

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Research, Review

Yearlong study says: smartphones may be detrimental to learning process (but hold your horses)

Last week I had an online discussion with among others Tom Bennett and Amber Walraven pro and con banning mobile phones from class (I do use them myself with my students) but it’s true: smartphones can have a negative effect on learning (well, when not being used related to the learning process). Now, this  yearlong study of first-time smartphone users by researchers at Rice University and the U.S. Air Force found that users felt smartphones were actually detrimental to their ability to learn.

But hold your horses, do note the study doesn’t say smartphones did make it more difficult to learn, but the newbie-users did ‘feel’ iPhones (the brand they used) have a negative effect. Also important to note is that the sample of the study was… 24 students. As I can imagine that a project in which you give over 200 students a smartphone would be impossible to fund and that it could have been pretty difficult to find enough newbie smartphone users, even in 2010, still it seems to me that you should be careful with too big conclusions based on this study.

From the press release:

The research paper “You Can Lead a Horse to Water But You Cannot Make Him Learn: Smartphone Use in Higher Education” appeared in a recent edition of the British Journal of Educational Technology. The research reveals the self-rated impact of smartphones among the users.

“Smartphone technology is penetrating world markets and becoming abundant in most college settings,” said Philip Kortum, assistant professor of psychology at Rice and the study’s co-author. “We were interested to see how students with no prior experience using smartphones thought they impacted their education.”

The research revealed that while users initially believed the mobile devices would improve their ability to perform well with homework and tests and ultimately get better grades, the opposite was reported at the end of the study.

The longitudinal study from 2010 to 2011 focused on 24 first-time smartphone users at a major research university in Texas. Prior to the study, the participants were given no training on smartphone use and were asked to answer several questions about how they thought a smartphone would impact their school-related tasks. The students then received iPhones, and their phone use was monitored during the following year. At the end of the study, the students answered the same questions.

When participants were asked to rate their feelings on the following statements specifically related to learning outcomes, such as homework, test-taking and grades, they provided the following answers (one represents “strongly disagree” and five represents “strongly agree”):

  • My iPhone will help/helped me get better grades – In 2010 the average answer was 3.71; in 2011 the average answer was 1.54.
  • My iPhone will distract/distracted me from school-related tasks – In 2010 the average answer was 1.91; in 2011 the average answer was 4.03.
  • The iPhone will help/helped me do well on academic tests – In 2010 the average answer was 3.88; in 2011 the average answer was 1.68.
  • The iPhone will help/helped me do well with my homework – In 2010 the average answer was 3.14; in 2011 the average answer was 1.49.

Kortum noted that the study did not address the structured use of smartphones in an educational setting. He said that the study’s findings have important implications for the use of technology in education.

“Previous studies have provided ample evidence that when smartphones are used with specific learning objects in mind, they can significantly enhance the learning experience,” Kortum said. “However, our research clearly demonstrates that simply providing access to a smartphone, without specific directed learning activities, may actually be detrimental to the overall learning process.”

Abstract of the study:

Smartphone technology is penetrating world markets and becoming ubiquitous in most college settings. This study takes a naturalistic approach to explore the use of these devices to support student learning. Students that had never used a smartphone were recruited to participate and reported on their expectations of the value of smartphones to achieve their educational goals. Instrumented iPhones that logged device usage were then distributed to these students to use freely over the course of 1 year. After the study, students again reported on the actual value of their smartphones to support their educational goals. We found that students’ reports changed substantially before and after the study; specifically, the utility of the smartphone to help with education was perceived as favorable prior to use, and then, by the end of the study, they viewed their phones as detrimental to their educational goals. Although students used their mobile device for informal learning and access to school resources according to the logged data, they perceived their iPhones as a distraction and a competitor to requisite learning for classroom performance.


Filed under Education, Research, Technology

Bring back the chalkboard? Teachers drawing diagrams is better than showing pre-made ones

Writing stuff with chalk on a blackboard, how old fashioned. But maybe sometimes still a good option, as this new study by shows students learn much more when listening to teachers’ talk while they draw diagrams rather than when teachers explained and showed pre-made diagrams. Not really surprisingly the effect was primarily the case for students with lower prior knowledge.

Does this means we should bring back the blackboard? No, you can do this with any kind of device, such as smartboards. Do note that in the experiment both approaches actually where shown in a video, making the study relevant for any kind of instruction, be it IRL or e.g. through video for a flipped classroom approach.

Abstract of the study:

In 4 experiments, participants viewed a short video-based lesson about how the Doppler effect works. Some students viewed already-drawn diagrams while listening to a concurrent oral explanation, whereas other students listened to the same explanation while viewing the instructor actually draw the diagrams by hand. All students then completed retention and transfer tests on the material. Experiment 1 indicated that watching the instructor draw diagrams (by viewing the instructor’s full body) resulted in significantly better transfer test performance than viewing already-drawn diagrams for learners with low prior knowledge (d = 0.58), but not for learners with high prior knowledge (d = −0.24). In Experiment 2, participants who watched the instructor draw diagrams (by viewing only the instructor’s hand) significantly outperformed the control group on the transfer test, regardless of prior knowledge (d = 0.35). In Experiment 3, participants who watched diagrams being drawn but without actually viewing the instructor’s hand did not significantly outperform the control group on the transfer test (d = −0.16). Finally, in Experiment 4, participants who observed the instructor draw diagrams with only the instructor’s hand visible marginally outperformed those who observed the instructor draw diagrams with the instructor’s entire body visible (d = 0.36). Overall, this research suggests that observing the instructor draw diagrams promotes learning in part because it takes advantage of basic principles of multimedia learning, and that the presence of the instructor’s hand during drawing may provide an important social cue that motivates learners to make sense of the material.


Filed under Education, Research, Technology

Most kids in the UK today are gamers (VIMN-study)

Computer games have been around for a couple of decades now (yes, you’re getting old) and gaming has become a massive industry.

What are kids’ gaming habits like in the UK today? And how do boys’ and girls’ gaming preferences and attitudes differ?

These questions were posited by a recent gaming project by Nickelodeon UK. This research was heavily featured in a July article on the future of gaming in The Guardian. Here are key findings from this study:

TV dominates UK kids’ screen time … but gaming is a huge (and growing) part of their lives.

  • Television viewing on the main TV set occupied 59% of their screen time
  • Nearly a quarter (22%) of their total screen time went to gaming

Gaming among kids is nearly universal in the UK, according to parents.

  • 99% of kids play games on handhelds, consoles, or mobile devices weekly, according to parents
  • Over half (56%) of kids play games daily—and it only grows with age (45% of K6-8, 57% of K9-10, 70% of K11-12)
  • Gaming moves hand-in-hand with personal device ownership, which also increases with age (46% of K3-4 own a device, 68% of K5-7, 85% off K8-11, 94% of K12-15)

Parents love gaming, too—especially as a family.

  • 3 out of 4 parents say they love to play games as a family
  • Nearly 7 in 10 see games as a great way to bond
  • As more Millennials become parents, new parents are very tech-proficient and pass that down to their children

Gaming isn’t just for boys—girls love it, too!

  • 70% of girls say they love to play games
  • 1 in 4 consider themselves a gaming addict
  • Boys play more frequently from a younger age–but at age 9-10 both genders are on an even playing field, with 54% of boys and 60% of girls gaming daily
  • Gaming peaks for girls at age 9-10—after that, their focus shifts toward their social lives (while boys’ passion for gaming continues)

Boys and girls play games differently.

  • Consoles are the #1 gaming device among boys (50% say it’s their favorite), followed by tablets
  • Smartphones do not really register for boys—they prefer bigger screens and more immersive experiences
  • Tablets are girls’ preferred device, driven by younger girls
  • Apps have made gaming more accessible to girls and offer more “girl-driven” games than consoles
  • At the peak gaming age for girls (9-10), consoles are important to hard-core gamers (25%), though the tablet still reigns (43%); as girls move into secondary school they focus more on smartphones

Boys’ gaming preferences shift with age. They start with exploring and racing games, then move into sports and shooting games.

  • While all boys are competitive, the youngest ones thrive on being the fastest, biggest, best
  • Competition becomes more advanced as boys grow — sports games become more popular and a way to bond with friends
  • Shooting games are more common among older boys (11-12)
  • Exploring/Building (primarily Minecraft) games remain relatively consistent across age groups

Girls love puzzle games the most.

  • Puzzle games are more suited to mobile devices (their preferred gaming device)
  • Singing and dancing games are popular, but skew younger
  • They also love Minecraft, character world games, and simulation games like The Sims
  • In general, girls stay with kids’ brands and immersive world longer than boys

Boys bond with each other through gaming, while girls prefer to play alone.

  • Boys enjoy playing with friends in the same room (something that increases with age); playing online kids in at 9 and by 11-12 a third of boys play online with friends (vs. 14% of girls)
  • Girls are more private about gaming, with 50% preferring to play alone (which increases with age)

When kids talk about gaming, conversations turn toward competition and new games.

  • Among boys and girls, levels completed and high scores are among the most common topics
  • New games are also a hot topic
  • Boys are more competitive than girls–as boys get older, they talk more about high scores and methods for increasing them (tips and cheats, YouTube videos, walk-throughs, etc.)
  • The playground is the main place where kids talk about and discover new games
  • YouTube is also a key source of gaming information for kids (especially boys) over 9

Summary of UK boys’ and girls’ gaming habits and preferences:


  • Core focus on game consoles because they are immersive
  • It’s all about completing the game and being the best
  • Tablets skew young or are more for casual gaming; they could be used to complement console games or promote conversation
  • YouTube is important for knowledge, discovery, and passing on skills—and should be embraced!


  • Gaming peaks at age 9-10, then migrates to smartphones in secondary school—social or puzzle games appeal the most
  • Don’t stereotype—racing and platform games are popular
  • Be inclusive
  • Mobile has opened up the market to girls – embrace the opportunity with this audience!

Leave a comment

Filed under Marketing, Research, Technology, Youngsters

Funny on Sunday: famous German literature critic Hellmuth Karasek reviews… the Ikea Catalogue

Leave a comment

Filed under Funny

Study shows: technology is no substitute for everyday student engagement and collaboration

The next couple of years we can expect more technological innovations, also in education. Google card board? Oculus rift? An evolution of MOOC’s? Time will tell (or Gartner will try to predict). Technology has changed a lot, also in education. But… does this mean that all will be different? No, those so-called digital natives (no, really don’t) don’t see technology as substitute for everyday student engagement and collaboration as this hasn’t been changing that much looking back to 1990.

From the press release:

The study, published in Computers & Education, was the culmination of 20 years of analysis of 1,105 courses dating back to 1990, the year that spawned the World Wide Web.

Concordia researchers Robert Bernard, Eugene Borokhovski and Richard Schmid were part of a team that probed how things changed over two decades: from PowerPoint presentations to virtual reality; from when computers ran on floppy disks to every student packing a smartphone.

They found that the most obvious positive impact of technology on education was reflected in cognitive tools that helped show what was being studied — like a demonstration of how a cell divides, or the details of the internal organs of a medical patient.

Such tools allow students to explore content in greater depth through simulations, games and virtual learning environments.

“Students can now look at images and manipulate things that would previously have been impossible to engage with in any other way,” says Bernard. “They allow you to accidentally blow up a laboratory without killing anyone.”

The Internet has also allowed students to take control when it comes to exploring information and ideas. But how much information can anyone absorb just by looking up web pages at random?

“The best instruction is structured and meaningful,” says Borokhovski. “Being guided by a teacher, while sharing ideas and experiences with peers, motivates you to be proactive in ways you can’t do alone.”

Concordia research also concluded that ongoing face-to-face communication with fellow students is still a critical aspect of college or university learning. Peers can stay in contact more conveniently than ever, but relationships are forged within the common study environment — something that is more difficult to replicate online.

“Students learn a great deal from each other,” says Schmid. “They can’t be a sole source of knowledge, but nor is it a case of the blind leading the blind. Plenty of learning comes from having the ability to exchange ideas and challenge one another’s thoughts.”

Moreover, campus life continues to have a profound influence on individual growth, which extends to society as a whole. “You can’t underestimate the credibility that comes with the experience,” says Schmid. “It remains a very important social step.”

So, even if every detail that’s presented to college or university students is just a Google search away, the post-secondary institution is at no risk of losing its inherent value.

“Consider how much effort it takes to learn beyond the obvious,” says Bernard. “If you really want to learn how to write code or be a doctor, or any of the things that require time and effort, there’s a reason that these complex skills don’t come naturally to everyone.”

“People may have illusions that technology is making things easier and easier when it’s quite often the opposite,” says Borokhovski.

“When the Internet was first introduced, it added value to the learning process, but that surge didn’t continue with each new development. We have to focus learning to a greater degree now, rather than jumping from one trend to another.”

Abstract of the study:

Although the overall research literature on the application of educational technologies to classroom instruction tends to favor their use over their non-use these results vary considerably depending on what kind of technology is used, who it is used with and, more importantly, under what circumstances and for what instructional purposes it is used. This meta-analysis summarizes data from 674 independent primary studies that compared higher degrees of technology use in the experimental with technology-leaner control conditions in terms of their effects on student learning outcomes in postsecondary education. We found an overall average weighted effect size of g+ = 0.27 (k = 879, p < .01), indicating low but significant positive effect of technology integration on learning. The follow-up analyses revealed significant influence of educational technology used for cognitive support blended learning instructional settings designed interaction treatments, and technology integration in teacher

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Review, Technology

Best Evidence in Brief: What works for reducing problem behaviors in early childhood?

A new Best Evidence in Brief, so new interesting research insights to share:

A new research brief from Child Trends synthesizes findings from random-assignment, intent-to-treat evaluations of 50 behavior programs. The evaluations assessed program impacts on externalizing behaviors (e.g., aggression, disruptive behavior, and oppositional defiance) and/or internalizing behaviors (e.g., withdrawal, anxiety, or depression) among children ages birth to five.

Overall, 36 of the 50 programs were found to have a positive impact. Specifically:

  • 32 of 49 programs (65 percent) improved externalizing behaviors
  • 13 of 24 programs (54 percent) improved internalizing behaviors
  • Of the 23 programs that assessed impacts on both behaviors, eight (35 percent) worked for both internalizing and externalizing behaviors

Findings showed that interventions characterized by a variety of approaches, settings, targets, and providers worked to reduce externalizing behaviors, suggesting that this cluster of behaviors can be improved using a number of different approaches.

In addition, the authors conclude that programs targeting parents and teachers are especially successful and should continue. They say that innovative approaches to program delivery, including technology-based or self-guided training, should be explored to scale up these successful programs and reach families who struggle to attend trainings or commit to home-visiting

Leave a comment

Filed under At home, Education, Research, Review

Think before you start to study. Your neighbour can affect you: mental effort is contagious

An interesting small Belgian study (n = 38, 20 females) by researchers from the VUB & the KU Leuven with Kobe Desender as first author tells you were to sit if you want to think really hard: next to someone who is also giving a mental effort!

How did they found out?

To investigate this, we adopted a variant of the Simon task in which two persons jointly perform the task. In a regular Simon task, one participant responds to the color of patches (e.g., blue or red) with either the left or the right hand, while ignoring its location on the screen (i.e., left or right). Typically, reaction times (RTs) are shorter and error rates lower on congruent trials, where the (task-irrelevant) location triggers the same response as the (task-relevant) color, compared to incongruent trials, where both features trigger a different response (i.e., the congruency effect). Here, two participants (A and B) are seated next to each other and each responds to half of the stimuli. For example, A responds to blue stimuli, whereas B responds to red stimuli.

Ok, but than they tweaked the Simon task a bit… In two experiments, two participants (A and B) jointly performed a Simon task, and the researchers selectively manipulated the difficulty of the task… but only for participant A.



But participant A is not the important one to check, participant B is. The researchers noted that participant B gave more mental effort when participant A performed the difficult version of the task, compared to the easy version. So the researchers conclude:

In the current study, we showed for the first time that the exertion of mental effort is contagious. Simply performing a task next to a person who exerts a lot of effort in a task will make you do the same.

Abstract of the study:

The presence of another person can influence task performance. What is, however, still unclear is whether performance also depends on what this other person is doing. In two experiments, two participants (A and B) jointly performed a Simon task, and we selectively manipulated the difficulty of the task for participant A only. This was achieved by presenting A with 90% congruent trials (creating an easy task requiring low effort investment) or 10% congruent trials (creating a difficult task requiring high effort investment). Although this manipulation is irrelevant for the task of participant B, we nevertheless observed that B exerted more mental effort when participant A performed the difficult version of the task, compared to the easy version. Crucially, in Experiment 2 this was found to be the case even when participants could not see each other’s stimuli. These results provide a first compelling demonstration that the exertion of effort is contagious.


Filed under Education, Research

Good summary of research on language learning and the brain in a 8-minute video

If you want to check the research mentioned in this video, check the Youtube-link.

Leave a comment

Filed under Research, Review

TEDx-talk by Tesia Marshik= Learning styles & the importance of critical self-reflection

Found this talk by Tesia Marshik via Leren. Hoe?Zo!. She discusses learning styles, a topic we also handled in our book (and often also on this blog).

About the talk:

The belief in learning styles is so widespread, it is considered to be common sense. Few people ever challenge this belief, which has been deeply ingrained in our educational system. Teachers are routinely told that in order to be effective educators, they must identify & cater to individual students’ learning styles; it is estimated that around 90% of students believe that they have a specific learning style but research suggests that learning styles don’t actually exist! This presentation focuses on debunking this myth via research findings, explaining how/why the belief in learning styles is problematic, and examining the reasons why the belief persists despite the lack of evidence.

Dr. Tesia Marshik is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Her research interests in educational psychology include student motivation, self-regulation, and teacher-student relationships.

Do you want to learn more about stuff that doesn’t exist or that is a bit more complicated than you think in education, check our book!

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Myths, Research, Review