“The secret to learning new things is to be willing to unlearn–even if your behaviors previously brought success.” ~ Marcia Connor.
Unlearning, Learning And Relearning About How The Brain Impacts Conferences And Events
I’m been in an unlearning funk for the past year or so. I didn’t want to give up familiar education models. They were comfortable to me. I had success using them. My beliefs were grounded in them. My interpretations of my experiences appeared consistent with these models. Unfortunately, my own experiences became my bias. I found myself embracing a psychological phenomenon called the confirmation bias. (Confirmation bias is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses, independently of whether they are true. ~ Wikipedia)
In the mid 1980s, I was wrapping up my post-baccalaureate work on education and adult learning. I was also teaching in the public school system and was tapped to develop district-wide curriculum using the education trends of the time: learning styles, VAK & VARK strategies, right brain versus left brain hemisphere dominance, multiple intelligences and more. These learning style theories were the rage of that day. The Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (of which I was a member) ran a long series on the subject and even ASTD provided multiple journal articles on these new models. I read and put into practice anything I could get my hands on by these theorists: Dunn & Dunn, Neil Fleming, Howard Gardner, Eric Jensen, Myers-Briggs and others.
Shedding Old Education Theories That Have Been Debunked
Today, much of what I was taught in post-graduate work, in my early professional education years and what I read and studied for nearly a decade has been exposed as vague theories lacking empirical research. I’ve discovered that I was a willing and enthusiastic propagator of what is now known as misinformation. Thankfully, some of the instructional techniques I picked up were actually beneficial to people but not for the reasons I thought.
I’m sure you’re wondering what I’m talking about and how it applies to conferences, education, meetings and events. I’m talking about the buzz on how the brain learns, science vs. theory and its affect on your conference education design.
Does The Discussion Of How The Brain Learns Impact Your Conference Education Design?
I’ve been sitting on this post for nearly six months now, waiting for the right time. I know it will cause a stir in many of my colleagues, some for and some against. When I saw that ASTD’s Learning Circuit Blog July question of the month was about brain learning and eLearning design, I knew the time was right.
So here’s my spin on their question: Does the discussion of how the brain learns impact your conference education design?
In short, yes. How the brain works and learns should impact your conference education design. Actually, it’s imperative for a successful attendee/learner conference experience. If you design your conference with the brain in mind, one that engages as many senses as possible and follows some basic, well-researched and proven brain learning principles, your attendees will have a more benefical conference experience. They’ll learn more that can be applied to their profession.
However, if you are using old education theories such as learning styles, VAK or VARK strategies, right vs. left brain, and if you are hiring speakers that promote these old models, you are disseminating myths, untruths and misinformation. Unintentionally, you have embraced the false doctrine of a quasi-evangelical crusade to transform your education. In reality, it’s a way for you to spend more money on these consultant’s theories and propaganda. Let’s remember that a theory is just a hypothesis, conjecture or a guess. It is not proven, researched fact. I’ll provide more of the facts about these theories in an upcoming post. Or you could just read Wikipedia on Learning Styles and see some of the facts yourself.
So before you start screaming I’m a heretic and have sold-out to the dark side, separate your confirmation bias and emotions and think logically for a moment. If researchers have proven that the world is round, do you still want to believe that it is flat because your eyes see the horizon? Or could your own misaligned preconceptions be misguiding you? Your brain doesn’t always tell you the truth. And in case you missed it, my analogy of the misperception that the world is flat applies to the education theories of learning styles, VAK/VARK strategies, brain hemisphericity, Myers-Briggs and more.
What have you had to unlearn recently? Why do you think unlearning old beliefs is so hard? How have you adapted to new research that is contrary to your old thoughts?