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How to Separate Learning Myths from Reality

Today we’re out to bust three “neuromyths” – those misinterpretations of neuroscience research that have lodged themselves within our cultural psyche, persisting despite a wealth of contrarian scientific evidence. In an article for McKinsey, Artin Atabaki, Stacey Dietch, and Julia M. Sperling team up to dispel these outdated assumptions for the sake of corporate employee training programs:

Our experience advising companies on their lifelong-learning initiatives suggests that such misunderstandings remain embedded in many corporate training programs. As companies increasingly pour money into developing their employees, they can no longer afford to invest in training programs based on inaccurate and out-of-date assumptions. In recent years, for example, US businesses alone spent more than $164 billion annually on employee learning. The stakes are high and getting higher.

Myth of the Dumb Adult

First there is the myth that the majority of learning takes place in early childhood. What MRI scanners are detecting tells a different story. Adults do retain a degree of neuroplasticity; the brain’s physical structure and functional organization can be changed through deliberate acts of mindfulness and meditation. Take that, two-year olds!

Myth of the “Locked” Brain

Another common myth leads us to believe that a large percentage of the brain is underutilized. If only we could access our treasure trove of mental reserves, we could have super-human intelligence! But the vast body of neurobiological research tells us otherwise. Regardless of what we are doing at a given moment, the majority of the brain is activated, meaning that outside stimuli, even when requiring separate brain function, compete for the brain’s resources (e.g. trying to multitask on your smartphone at a seminar or company meeting). In order to learn at optimal levels, the mind needs to be fully immersed in learning without distraction.

Myth of Left vs. Right

Then there is the old right-brain / left-brain myth, the idea that each of us has a preferred “hemisphere” that we dominantly use. Although some working styles are more analytic, while others favor the “big picture” approach, the majority of our interactions rely on a relatively equal use and collaboration of the two hemispheres. Think about that for a while!

Read the full article with examples at:


Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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