One of the key components of the Learning Renaissance is the idea that our growing understanding of how the brain works in learning will give us insights that will help us model future learning.
A key problem with that is the fact that the findings of neuroscientists are usually so nuanced that it is difficult to find practical applications of their research in classroom practice. There are few researchers more pedantic that a neuroscientist!
Attempts to bring neuroscience findings into the classroom in a practical way have a very poor track record when they attempt to move beyond generalisations and tips and tricks.
Among the false starts for neuroscience in the classroom have been learning styles and left and right brain function. Both represent bastardised amalgams of research findings.
A few years back, learning styles were all the rage. Usually, as a result of an introduction to Neuroscience 101, which took place in a lazy afternoon’s INSET, the ‘concept’ of learning styles was introduced. It suggested that we all had preferred learning styles, some preferred auditory stimulus and others visual images as prompts to learning and so on.
From this generalised introduction some schools invested heavily in the concept. Questionnaires were filled in by students to reveal their preferred learning styles and class teaching was adapted to encompass the various needs of the categorised learners. In some cases, students were issued exercise books in the colour reflecting their preferred learning style. There was almost a view that having determined the preferred style for each child, they needed to be fed an unremitting diet of information in that particular style.
The idea that to forge a purposeful direction through a life of learning, students would need to be able to marshal and deploy a range of learning styles, appropriate to task, seemed to be lost in translation between research and practice.
Similarly the right/left brain function taxonomy gained a lot of adherents. This approach suggested that each individual was predominantly left- or right-brained in the way they approached learning and that each brain hemisphere had differing learning characteristics.
Those who were deemed to be left brain dominant tended to be systematic, compliant, strong on logic and data. Those who were right-brained dominant tended to be intuitive, artistic and strong on emotional intelligence. However it was also thought that the rigours and structures of the traditional school setting strongly favoured the left-brainers at the expense of the right- brainers. Indeed, it was stated that right brain dominant individuals found school a very intimidating place to learn and consequently were seen to be non-conformists whose attitudes and behaviours were seen to be challenging to the order and calm of the school.
Much work has gone into debunking both approaches. Indeed the neuroscientist would regard both approaches with as much sympathy as an astronomer would summon up for an astrologist!
In a more sympathetic view, the fact that both approaches, wrong as they may be, gained circulation and credibility, suggests that teachers are looking for a more systematic approach, not just to their teaching, but also to the individual learning needs of their children. I would like to see neuroscientists come down from their sneering moral high ground and try to codify their research so that it is of some practical use to classroom practitioners…
Read more on this at The Guardian: Can neuroscientists dispel the myth that children have different learning styles? | The Guardian