Neuromyths in Education: How Do They Affect Learning?

Neuromyths in education claim to be based on research, but in reality, they only harm and hinder learning. Keep reading to learn more.
Neuromyths in Education: How Do They Affect Learning?
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 14 January, 2023

Education inevitably goes hand in hand with science. We need to know how a child’s brain works and how children’s development evolves in order to create appropriate teaching strategies. However, there are certain myths that hinder this task. These are beliefs that, because they’re often repeated or seem logical, we assume to be true, and they can lead us to apply inappropriate practices. For this reason, today we want to talk to you about some neuromyths in education.

Some of them are completely unfounded. But there are others that, although they’re based on real scientific research, take the information in a partial way or interpret it incorrectly. This is why many parents and educators committed to their work may adhere to them and think they’re valuable resources, when in fact, they harm their children’s learning.

These are the main neuromyths in education

Nowadays, with so much information circulating on the internet and so many new pedagogies and alternative approaches, it’s difficult to discern. However, below, we’ll talk about some of the most well-known educational neuromyths.

We use only 10% of the brain

You’ve probably heard this statement on several occasions, but the reality is that it has no scientific basis. People use 100% of their brains. In fact, even when we sleep, all brain areas show some degree of activity. Moreover, science has been able to map the brain almost in its entirety and it has become clear that there’s no area that’s unusable, except in the case of injury.

This neuromyth can lead parents and educators to think that their children have enormous undeveloped potential and that perhaps early and exhaustive stimulation is required in order to activate it.

Children studying the brain.
Thinking that we only use 10% of the brain is a mistake. This organ is extremely flexible and plastic, precisely because we use all its capacity, which gives us great opportunities to learn.

Each hemisphere has a function

It’s widely believed that the left hemisphere is logical, rational, and in charge of language. The right hemisphere, on the other hand, is the more creative and holistic hemisphere. Also, based on this, students are classified according to whether they use one hemisphere or the other more for learning.

However, the cerebral hemispheres aren’t separate, nor are they individually in charge of any function. On the contrary, they’re closely and strongly connected and work together. It’s true that for certain tasks, there’s a predominance of one or the other, but it’s the neural connections and the integrated work of different areas that enable learning. Therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to design programs based on this supposed division.

Learning occurs in the first three years of life

It’s true that in the first years of life, important learning takes place in an accelerated manner and that it’s a critical period for certain functions. However, it’s not the only relevant period. As we said, the brain has great plasticity and can reorganize itself and learn throughout the life cycle.

Therefore, although it’s important to take care of this stage, it’s not necessary to exert excessive pressure or think that these years are decisive. Children will continue with their learning process, so the natural stages must be respected. For example, the prefrontal cortex of the brain doesn’t finish maturing until the age of 25, so impulse control isn’t fully acquired until then.

Some subjects are more important than others

We often have in mind that some subjects are more important than others. For example, we think that mathematics, language, or chemistry are crucial and deserve more attention than others such as art, music, or physical education.

However, beyond acquiring knowledge and concepts linked to partial subjects, learning should focus on providing children with tools and competencies that equip them for life. Moreover, subjects such as these undervalued ones have been shown to improve cognitive ability, academic performance, motivation, creativity, and collaboration. Therefore, they shouldn’t be undervalued.

Children learning math.
In some schools, the hours dedicated to music, sports, or art have been eliminated in order to increase the hours dedicated to mathematics, language, or chemistry. However, all subjects are relevant for children.

Learning is more effective in the preferred modality

Another of the most well-known neuromyths in education is one that’s associated with representational systems. According to this model, some people rely more on visual input to perceive and interpret information, while others rely more on auditory input, and a third group on kinesthetics. Therefore, it’s assumed that learning would be more effective if each child learned in their preferred modality.

But this isn’t entirely true. It’s also important to take into account the abilities, interests, and previous knowledge of each child, as well as the type of subject to be taught. For the history of art, visual supports may be more necessary, but for science, the possibility of experimenting and touching the materials with the hands is better.

In short, the most complete and meaningful learning occurs when we’re able to combine these three systems of representation and adapt them to the specific activity and its objectives.

More time in the classroom means more learning

A final educational myth to consider is the one that states that more teaching hours are synonymous with more learning. However, sometimes less is more. For example, reducing the teaching load and the time spent in the classroom, but placing greater emphasis on the quality of education and on innovation with regard to the curriculum can lead to improvements in learning and performance.

We also know that students have a limited attention span and that it’s not possible to perform at 100% during the entire school day. Therefore, it’s good to know how to take advantage of attentional resources, show new learning at the beginning, and diversify the rest of the time in varied activities that allow experimentation and consolidation of what has been learned. In short, spending eight hours passively receiving explanations from their teacher doesn’t seem to be the best strategy.

Banish neuromyths in education to achieve quality teaching

In short, neuroscience is essential in order to advance and improve pedagogy and educational systems. But it’s important that the information is assumed with rigor and not taken in a biased way. The latter can lead to the implementation of erroneous or ineffective educational strategies. In the worst case, they can even hinder children’s learning.

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