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Debunking the Neuromyth

Last week 30 highly respected education academics from around the world banded together to publish a letter, timed to gain as much publicity as possible for Global Brain Awareness Week, which started on Monday 13 March. In it they vociferously condemn the reliance by school teachers on learning styles. They could easily have focused their contempt on the beauty industry.

The learning styles approach is deeply engrained in salon and spas, where frequent claims of being a ‘visual learner’ have gained credence in an industry where creativity is prized. That such eminent academics as Professor Steven Pinker, Johnstone family professor of psychology at Harvard University, and Professor Hal Pashler, Distinguished professor of psychology, UC San Diego, denounced it as ineffective, a waste of resources and even damaging, must give industry leaders pause. Salons and manufacturers spend millions of dollars every year developing and delivering education to our service providers, much of it based on a system ranked by the education specialists as unreliable and invalid at best, total hokum at worst.

ISBN brought in its own expert to discuss the issue in the run-up to Brain Awareness Week. In the first in a series of Coffee Talk webinars, created as an opportunity for members to sit down together for a virtual, informal chat about burning issues within the industry, Mark Kartarik, President of Sport Clips Inc, invited his one-time professor from Minnesota to discuss theories of learning and their impact on the industry.

Matthew H Olson, professor of psychology at Hamline University and author of the seminal An Introduction to the Theories of Learning, now in its 9th edition, is a clear authority on effective approaches to learning. And he began by immediately debunking the learning styles ‘neuromyth’.

There is no scientific validity to the learning styles approach, according to Professor Olson, and it is too used as an excuse to justify people’s failure to learn.

‘The brain is a multi-input device – it gets vision, it gets hearing, touch, senses. It gets taste. If we are doing with our hands or our bodies in space, we get kinesthetic input. We’ve got six or so channels coming in all the time. It’s not just for sending information in and out. It learns, that’s what it does,’ he explained to Mark. ‘If a brain is alive, it changes as a result of experiences.’

Olson argued that limiting the learning process to just one channel was counterproductive. The more ways we use to communicate educational messages, the fewer chances that information will be forgotten.

‘Let’s say we want to show someone how to mix a new, complex color solution. They are going to want to see someone do it, to hear what it’s about, to get their hands on it. They are going to want a little practice, a little feedback and to see their own progress,’ he added.

The best way to learn he concluded was through apprenticeships, something that academics and researchers found out as early as 1903. It’s not listening or watching learning how to do something but actually being engaged in doing it that reaps the most rewards.

If you’d like to listen to the entire webinar go to

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