Curated Insights: Busting Workplace Learning Myths
Welcome to fake news, L&D edition! The existence of bad information (a.k.a. lies) is far from new. It just moves faster, looks prettier and is more easily accessed today thanks to the Internet. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for people to get sucked into the misinformation vortex nowadays, especially when bad information either confirms an existing bias or just sounds too good NOT to be true.
Bad information has been a constant in the learning industry for, well, pretty much forever. After all, we don’t completely understand how the human mind works. So it’s easy for pseudoscience to creep in as people look for strong ideas on which to base their work. While these concepts can make things simpler for L&D, they can lead to negative repercussions for the people we support. Not only do learning myths fail to yield measurable results, but they also perpetuate misinformation about how learning should work and propagate incorrect expectations for future L&D interventions.
Our April curated insights explores a few of the more popular learning myths on which L&D pros unknowingly continue to waste valuable time and resources.
Teachers must ditch ‘neuromyth’ of learning styles, say scientists from The Guardian
Let’s start with the mother of all learning myths. Learning styles don’t exist! They just don’t, and I don’t really need scientists to help me on this one (although their support is greatly appreciated). Common sense tells me that a person doesn’t have only one genetically-predetermined way in which they learn best. For example, if you’re an “auditory learner,” are you going to tell me that the best way to teach you how to drive a car is through storytelling and audio instructions? Nope! Rather, we must match the method of instruction to more complex considerations, like context and message, in order to facilitate the optimal learning experience.
As this article from The Guardian explains, learning styles continue to mislead teachers in all levels of academia to the detriment of their students. “Aside from the cost in terms of time and money, one concern is that learning styles leads to the belief that individual students are unable to learn because the material is inappropriate.” As L&D pros, we don’t just teach people new skills. We also show them what learning should look like and create expectations. I can’t explain why the concept of learning styles, which is so obviously ridiculous, continues to survive. But I do know Will Thalheimer will give you $5,000 if you can prove that designing interventions based on learning styles actually produce better results. That money has been on the table since 2006, and I don’t see anyone collecting anytime soon.
The Microlearning Millennial Myth by Ellen Burns-Johnson
Learning styles irk me to no end, but nothing fires me up like generational assumptions! Depending on the dates we’re using this week, I may or may not be a Millennial. Therefore, I must require constant recognition, feel like I’m always deserving of a promotion, and have the attention span of a … OH LOOK SQUIRREL! Nope! While experience plays a huge part in establishing who we are and how we operate, no one can be fully defined by the year they were born.
Ellen Burns-Johnson from Allen Interactions addresses this generational myth in her blog post. Specifically, she digs into the Microsoft study (PDF) that spawned the inaccurate “Millennial attention span is less than that of a goldfish” myth. As Ellen contends, it’s not about age or “digital nativism.” Rather, it’s about quality and options. She rightly explains that good microlearning design can provide the right information to the right person at the right time, in order to better engage modern workers and deliver high-value learning experiences.
The Myers-Briggs Personality Test is Pretty Much Meaningless from Smithsonian.com
Are you an ENTP? Maybe an ISTJ? Or how about a WMCA? Assuming that four letters can accurately describe a person just feels silly, but that’s exactly what the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and other similar tests, try to do. I’ve participated in my share of personality assessments during interview processes as well as management team building activities. I’m happy to report that not only did the assessment help others better relate to me on an ongoing basis, but I learned a lot about myself that I didn’t already know.
Personality assessments follow this flawed way of thinking. Any attempt to put complicated human beings into simple boxes lead to faulty assumptions and bad decisions. This 2013 article from The Smithsonian summarizes criticisms of the MBTI from a variety of sources. Why are organizations spending more than $20 million per year on junk science? “People are very complex, variable and unpredictable. Many users of the MBTI believe that a straightforward test can simplify them to the point where they can be managed, controlled and utilised to make them as efficient and productive as possible.” The workplace ecosystem simply cannot be summed up in four-letter combinations.
The Debunker Club by Will Thalheimer and Paul Kirschner
With so much misinformation flying around everyday, where can L&D pros go to figure out which information is solid and which should be tossed aside? First, question everything, especially if it doesn’t line up with common sense principles! Second, leverage your professional network to see what cuts the collective mustard. Third, join The Debunker Club!
Brought to you by PhD research enthusiasts Will Thalheimer and Paul Kirschner, The Debunker Club is a collaborative that shares resources to help L&D pros overcome common learning myths. Clearing up the misinformation that plagues our field is a team effort, and this is an opportunity for L&D pros to come together and share insights that will ultimately benefit everyone we support.
It’s our responsibility as L&D pros to counteract learning myths every day using solid science and data-based evidence. This is especially true when stakeholders, who don’t “do learning” for a living, become enamored with an idea we know to be junk. Otherwise, we aren’t supporting our people to the best of our abilities and will continue to struggle to find measurable results for our work. But, we can’t just get mad and tell people why their ideas are “stupid.” Rather, we must provide clear, polite feedback along with justification for our position. So, the next time an executive comes your way with a request for a Myers-Briggs exercise as part of a team building activity, share the article above and provide an alternative, outcome-driven option.
Here are a few more resources that provide solid insights you can use to overcome popular learning myths:
- Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen
- Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel
- RetrievalPractice.org by Pooja K. Agarwal
- Microlearning: Small Bites, Big Impact by Axonify
- Gamification Myths Debunked by Karl Kapp