Here, Gary Bryant from ITSI explains the benefits of a broad church approach to technology in the classroom and looks at some of the latest research on how we all learn, unpacking some of the most common ‘teaching myths’ that persist within the education system, while providing insight into why this may be.
There is no doubt that technology has become an integral part of education. As the technology continues to evolve and impact on the way we create, share and digest information, the collective discussion on these topics has a tendency to be rather overwhelming. Which topics should educators be paying attention to, and how can we best adapt our classrooms?
Cutting edge educational research and teaching trends are ever evolving. However, this information is not always filtered down to those who are the key contributors to the education system – teachers. With increasingly heavy workloads, teachers can run the risk of being out of the loop with academic research.
The integration of technology has led to a number of developments that have made learning more accessible, including a focus on differentiation in the classroom, which involves adopting activities for mixed abilities, and an increased emphasis on a blended learning approach, that sees traditional teaching methods utilised alongside technology.
However, within this sphere also exists ‘neuro myths’; ideas and approaches to teaching and learning which aren’t necessarily backed by research, , but have gained significant traction with teachers and leaders alike through well intentioned “experts” and CPD programmes..
The idea of learning styles is perhaps one of the most recognised, and most debunked,education theories. It’s based on the idea that children learn most effectively when lessons are aimed at different sensory receivers (also called the Visual Auditory Kinetic Model). For example, the idea that some may learn more effectively through visual methods of teaching, like videos or demonstrations, whereas others absorb information best when it is conveyed through auditory lessons (think lecture style). So, if a teacher knows what sort of learner a child is, we can optimise their learning by presenting material and using language in a way that appeals to them. That’s a straight forward assumption and one that has common sense value. However, research rebuts the idea of learning styles all together. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, an expert in the field, explains that it is not catering to the individual child’s learning style that affects achievement, but rather the utilising of the modality that best supports specific content that determines whether it is mastered. While the theory makes sense and seems to appear in many classroom experiences, the research doesn’t support this theory.
The Learning Pyramid
The Learning Pyramid (also known as the Learning Cone or the Cone of Experience) is another outdated and questionable theory which still holds considerable attention within the education domain. The mode lattempts to highlight the different methods of teaching and how well these work with student retention rates. On the surface, this again looks like a great way to categorise learning and create content that best engages a student based on this.
However, the first issue with this model is that it does not leave room for modern theories such as differentiation. It is very much a ‘one size fits all’ approach, suggesting that every student would have optimal retention rates if this model was implemented in the classroom. It also suggests that teachers should adapt the classroom to become more collaborative and group-focused, but without any background knowledge, it can be impossible for a child to effectively learn in a group setting and discuss with their classmates.
As with learning styles, the most important factor that devalues the learning pyramid is the lack of substantial empirical research that supports it. As seen from the diagram above, the National Training Laboratories (NTL) claims that the learning pyramid was something that they created. However, when their reports are read, the NTL cannot find the suitable research that supports this. Without this research, teachers and educators should approach the learning model cautiously, knowing that it may actually have negative impacts on the classroom.
While we agree that it is important for these historical methods of teaching to be acknowledged, it is important to ensure that there is room for different approaches to learning to be used within the classroom at points when it is most practical.
‘If you can Google it, why study it?’
A more recent concept in education is the idea due to the infiltration of technology both in and outside of the classroom, which has made information extremely, and possibly overly, accessible to students, we don’t need to teach students actual content anymore.While information is certainly at students’ fingertips, does this really mean that foundational knowledge on a subject, should be abandoned in the classroom?
In recent years, the key skills that leaders would like educators to prioritise in their teaching has expanded from those we have thought of as classic (character, creativity and collaboration) to include things like computational thinking and digital citizenship. Just because students may be able to Google information doesn’t mean we should encourage full independent learning with no factual instruction. If students have a poor foundational knowledge, they will not be able to develop into the critical thought leaders we need to forge the way as part of the fourth industrial revolution.
Although technology has made information and resources easier to access, this does not mean that students are innately able to process and utilise this knowledge without traditional learning methods. Foundational knowledge is key to allow students to explore and add to what they have already learned in the classroom. Also, it seems redundant to suggest that key skills such as creativity and collaboration should overrule the importance of foundational knowledge. Without that understanding, how can children be expected to effectively analyse and collaborate? If we wish to build these key skills in our students, then we first need children to be able to understand the purpose of the task and what the information really means.
Educational trends are constantly changing; allowing these ‘education myths’ to persist despite a lack of empirical research will no doubt be counterproductive. It is now clear that adapting the classroom for different modes of learning is important, but we must pay more attention to the research neuroscience is providing us before implementing a model that could well be a myth. Directing our attention to key theories such as differentiation and blended learning can help students to build key skills for the future as well as improve the education system as a whole.
By Gary Bryant, ITSI