You’ve made it this far in life, so you probably think you know how you learn new information. But it turns out that false beliefs about teaching and learning are a problem that we carry with us throughout our lives, says Ulrich Boser, author of Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or How to Become an Expert In Just About Anything.
“We’re learning all the time, figuring out how to use new tools,” he says. “When you get a new smartphone or system at work, you need to gain new skills to use it. How you do that impacts your success.”
Unfortunately, there is a gap between conventional wisdom and facts when it comes to the process of learning, says Boser. “There are so many myths,” he says. “A lot of people don’t give much thought to the best way to gain new knowledge and skills. But learning is often a form of mental doing, and the more someone is actively engaged, the more they learn.”
Through studies and research, Boser identified several myths about learning that can make the process more difficult. Here are five misconceptions, and why you should stop believing in them:
MYTH NO. 1: WE HAVE SET LEARNING STYLES
You’ve probably heard about visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning. In a survey of more than 3,000 Americans, nearly 90% of respondents believe it’s better to receive information in your personal learning style. But once you start thinking about the idea, it falls apart, says Boser.
“It’s hard to learn soccer only by hearing it,” he says. “Like many myths, there is a bit of truth that lies behind it, but there’s no research to support learning styles. One major recent review stated simply that the authors found virtually no evidence for the approach.”
How to really learn: Instead, match your content to the process, says Boser. “Students should learn music by listening to music, while students should learn reading by doing more reading,” he says. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education recently told teachers to “make [their] own call on how to utilize learning styles in the classroom.”
MYTH NO. 2: REREADING MATERIAL IS A GOOD WAY TO LEARN
Before you go into an important meeting, you might refresh your memory by reviewing your notes or proposal, but this passive approach to learning won’t serve you well. While more than 80% of respondents in Boser’s study believed that rereading is a highly effective approach to learning, research suggests that the approach is flawed, says Boser. What works better is an active form of learning.
“People tend to see themselves as a computer; data flowing past them somehow gets into their head,” he says. “That’s not how learning works. You need to make sense of the order to understand.”