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9 Learning Style Myths Debunked

Thursday, October 14, 2010 9 Learning Style Myths Debunked

In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably increase the benefits of studying. Gali Finkel, a product manager at Mind360.com compiled a series of cognitive techniques that can give students, young and old, something many did not have before: a study plan based on evidence, instead of schoolyard folk wisdom.

The series of 9 learning style myth-busters below is based on a recent review of a research about different learning styles, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

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Myth 1: Hold to one study location.

The right way: Change the room where you study, it improves retention. When the outside context is varied, the information is enriched and this reduces forgetting.

Myth 2: You can’t improve your brain capacity for learning new things.

The right way: By training your brain you can improve your attention, working memory and other cognitive skills, critical for learning (Brain Training Science for learning).

Myth 3: Concentrate on developing just one skill at a time.

The right way: Vary the type of material studied in a single session - alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language. Musicians practice sessions often include a mix of scales, and many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.

Myth 4: Children have specific learning styles

The right way: Change the room where you study and improve retention. It is wrong to say that some are “visual learners” “auditory learners”, “left-brain” students, or “right-brain” ones. (Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia).

Myth 5: Study the same material twice, in back-to-back sessions.

The right way: Study the material just once and do a practice test in the second session. Testing is a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; alter the way the information is stored - making it more accessible in the future (a study by Dr. Roediger and J. Karpicke).

Myth 6: Focus intensely on a single thing.

The right way: Study distinct but related skills or concepts in one session.

Myth 7: Study math in repeating examples of one equation.

The right way: Practice mixed problem sets, which includes examples of several types of calculations grouped together. When students face a list of problems, all of the same kind, they know the strategy to use before they even read the problem. With mixed practice, each problem is unique, which means kids must learn how to choose the appropriate method (published on the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology).

Myth 8: Intensive immersion is the best way to master a new genre or creative work.

The right way: Our brain picks up deeper patterns when seeing assorted material; it picks up what’s similar and what’s different about them, often subconsciously (experiment published in the Journal Psychology and Aging).

Myth 9: “Cramming” leads to a better grade on a given exam.

The right way: Study an hour of tonight, an hour on the weekend and another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall. When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer.

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