Learning and education myths

On-Air

(WTNH) — Have you ever heard that boys are better at certain subjects than girls? Cheryl Durwin, professor of psychology at Southern Connecticut State University debunks this learning myth and others just like it.

Myth: Many students are adept at “multi-tasking.” 

Cheryl notes that while many people believe they can multi-task effectively (little or no loss in performing two or more tasks at once), the evidence is conclusive that this is not the case. She said only a very small percentage of the population, referred to as “supertaskers,” may be able to do so. But interestingly, among people who insist they are one of the select few, studies indicate they are usually even less likely to do so. She notes that people have only a limited amount of attention/concentration ability, and spreading it out over more than one task leads to a loss of concentration. Cheryl notes that people often can alternate their focus from one task to another, particularly if one task does not require a lot of concentration. For example, a person may be able to fold their clothes and talk on the phone because folding clothes does not require much thought and can be one almost automatically.

Myth: Students should be taught to accommodate their “learning styles.” 

Cheryl points out that while students may have a preferred method of learning (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.), the scientific evidence shows learning ability does not improve by catering to an individual’s learning style. In fact, the best method of learning is through a variety of types – visual, auditory, etc.

Myth: Students can watch TV and do their homework effectively at the same time. 

Cheryl says this is not the case if they are paying attention to both. On the other hand, having music playing in the background does not necessarily detract from studying, particularly if the music blocks out other distracting sounds. In that instance, it can actually aid in studying. But it requires a student to maintain their focus on the books, not singing or engaging in the music.

Myth: Boys are naturally better at math, and girls are naturally better at language skills. 

While some studies may show a gender bias, Cheryl says this is due to experiences rather than innate ability. There is some evidence to show that adolescent boys are better at mental rotation skills and girls are better at spatial location of objects, but she says this appears to be based on experiences. For example, boys tend to have more toys like blocks growing up.

Myth: Cramming for a test works. 

Cheryl says cramming might work to get a good grade for a test. But the material does not move into long-term memory as effectively that way, and therefore most of what is being crammed is usually forgotten after a short term. It is not an effective long-term learning strategy. This can be particularly important in courses that are part of a student’s major.

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