Published on 2015/01/07

Challenging Nine Myths about Education and Learning

The EvoLLLution | Challenging Eight Myths about Education and Learning
There are some myths that are stopping the higher education industry from reaching its full potential, and some that simply harm students.

There are many assumptions about education and learning that are held to be true without any evidence. Some of these assumptions are so unhelpful and troublesome—or even dead wrong—that I’ve decided to call them myths. The problem is that they seem like common sense and that’s why they’re often unquestioned. [1]

In this article, however, I’m going to question them. I’m even going to attempt to debunk a few.

Many of the assumptions explored here relate to simple sayings that are sometimes mechanically repeated by politicians and even educators. They’ve been bandied about so much that they’ve become empty catchphrases.

My hope is that by challenging some of society’s assumptions about education and learning, you might be encouraged to do the same with your assumptions (if, indeed, they’re holding you back).

MYTH #1: An education guarantees a job.

REALITY: An education is just one factor that might help you get you a job. It might get your foot in an employer’s door. It might even land you your dream job. But there’s no assurance that it will even prepare you for a job. [2] Without a doubt, there are numerous factors that are within your control and that will help get you a job, including (but not limited to):

  • Your experience.
  • Your attitude and personality. [3]
  • The right mentor. [4]
  • The right connections.
  • Your online identity. [5]

MYTH #2: Education should give you the skills and knowledge needed to compete in the global economy and to be productive members of society.

REALITY: Competing in the global economy and being a “productive member” of society should be the furthest thing from your mind when you’re studying. These abstract ideas just muddy the waters. They’re so misguided that, from an individual’s perspective, they border on being pointless. A healthier approach to looking at the purpose of education is that it should give you the skills and knowledge that help you get a job that you enjoy and that pays the bills.

MYTH #3: Teachers and instructors should have numerous education qualifications. [6]

REALITY: Teachers and instructors without education qualifications can still be excellent teachers and instructors. In short, being a qualified teacher or instructor won’t necessarily make you better at your job. Degrees, certificates, graduate-level credentials; these are all great. Yet while acknowledging that teaching is a skillset and can be taught (you’re not born with or without the ability to teach), there are many valid ways to start a career as a teacher or instructor. That’s perhaps why several US states no longer require school teachers to have advanced education qualifications. [7] With this in mind, someone with a math or science degree could still be an excellent math or science teacher even if they have no education qualifications. [8] For online education, this approach is even more self-evident. For example, a self-taught software programmer could be an excellent coding boot camp instructor even if they don’t have an education degree or even a computer science degree.

MYTH #4: Online education is not participatory or interactive.

REALITY: Some online courses consist of just reading online content and watching videos. Such courses don’t provide opportunities for students to collaborate with other students or interact in challenging ways with the course material.

However, it’s a mistake to think that just because a course is delivered virtually that it will be, by default, lacking in collaboration and student engagement. Indeed, there are many online courses that promote active participation with the instructor and other students, and provide umpteen ways to creatively interact with the material. [9]

MYTH #5: Brick-and-mortar classrooms are more conducive to learning than virtual classrooms.

REALITY: There are pros and cons for different learning environments and delivery mechanisms. You might prefer to having a teacher or instructor in the same room as you, lecturing, encouraging and being available for in-person (non-digital) feedback. Or you might learn better when left alone with just your computer and headphones. [10] In short, different strokes for different folks. Instead of engaging in a fruitless analog-versus-digital debate, perhaps it’s more beneficial to acknowledge that we have moved away from a one-size-fits-all approach to education and there’s no turning back.

MYTH #6: Education is broken. Technology-based learning will save it.

REALITY: Doomsayers like to declare that education is broken. And dreamers like to predict that technology will be education’s savior. Such claims aren’t particularly useful. [11]

Certainly, the US no longer leads the world in postsecondary education. And, sure, there are numerous problems with the learning industry in this country. That said, to counter the view that our education system needs fixing, it’s perhaps more accurate to say that it works for some people, yet not for others. A deeper more nuanced view, one that prioritizes self-responsibility, would sounds more like this: some people make the education system work for themselves, and others don’t. [12] In this context, technology can help improve education, though thinking of technology as education’s savior is too much of a leap.

MYTH #7: If you have the opportunity to go to college, you should go to college.

REALITY: There are numerous viable alternatives to college. There’s nothing wrong with getting a job straight out of high school. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with foregoing a traditional college degree and holding off starting a job for as long as you can. Be that as it may, there are countless positive outcomes that could result from attending college, either a brick-and-mortar one or an Internet-based one. Consider keeping in mind that just because 40 percent of working-aged Americans hold a college degree, it doesn’t mean that college is a good fit for everyone. [13]

MYTH #8: Education is a public good.

REALITY: Education is increasingly being viewed as a private good. [14]

MYTH #9: The best way to judge whether you’ve learned something is by taking a test or quiz.

REALITY: Tests and quizzes—and indeed many grading systems used by schools, colleges, and institutions—provide an indication of what you have possibly learned. They shouldn’t be considered confirmation that you’ve intellectually nailed a subject. A related topic is standardized testing. Many people and organizations dispute that standardized test scores are the best way to judge educational success or failure. [15] You could get an astronomical score on one of these tests, but that doesn’t mean you’ve learned the material.

Education is Life Itself

It’s an understatement to say that education is the foundation of many people’s lives. Indeed, John Dewey once wrote that education isn’t preparation for life, that it is life itself. [16]

That’s just one reason why inaccurate and oversimplified assumptions about education and learning need to be nipped in the bud. There’s just too much at stake. And the cost of making a mistake—when it comes to choosing a career path, paying for education, and so forth—is too high. My hope is that this article has presented you with some new views on this vital topic.

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Footnotes and Resources

[1] (A) Excerpts: “The aims, content, and organization of schools are so embedded in our culture that the assumptions on which they rest are seldom examined.”

“And the nature of schools is rooted in the historical traditions, values, and assumptions into which we have been socialized. Although we act on these values and assumptions, we seldom examine them, even as we try to influence schools.”

Source: Elliot W. Eisner, “Questionable Assumptions About Schooling” (PDF), The Teachers, Schools, and Society Reader; archive.

(B) Edward P. Clapp, “Envisioning the Future of Arts Education: Challenging Core Assumptions, Addressing Adaptive Challenges, and Fostering the Next Generation of Arts Education Leaders” (PDF), Towards a New Concept of Arts Education: Second World Conference on Arts Education; Seoul, Korea; Harvard University, USA; archive.

[2] According to research by Hart Research Associates in 2013, 56% of employers thought that half or fewer of college graduates had the knowledge and skills to advance in their companies. Source: “It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success” (PDF), Hart Research Associates, www.aacu.org, April 10, 2013; archive.

[3] Ronnie Ann, “Why Interviewers See Attitude and Personality as Job Skills,” Work Coach Cafe (WorkCoachCafe.com), June 14, 2011; archive.

[4] Jessica Taylor, “4 Factors That Advance Your Career (That Have Nothing To Do With You),” The Muse (TheMuse.com), September 11, 2012; archive.

[5] Matthew O’Donnell, “Why You Didn’t Get the Job: 7 Factors in Your Control,” HEALTHeCAREERS.com, July 11, 2012; archive.

[6] P Michael Reidy, “Questioning Educational Assumptions,” American Thinker (AmericanThinker.com), September 5, 2011; archived.

[7] (A) Excerpt: “The Kansas State Board of Education is making it easier to become a teacher […] On Tuesday, the State Board of Education unanimously approved regulations to allow schools to hire teachers without education degrees.”

Source: “Kansas Considers Hiring Teachers Without Education Degrees,” Kansas City Business Journal, June 4, 2014; archive.

(B) Excerpt: “[Teach for North Carolina is] the experienced teacher, the beginning teacher, the recent graduate of a college/university teaching program. But we’re also looking beyond ‘traditional’ teaching professionals to individuals without education degrees, teacher training, and experience.”

Source: “Teach4NC,” Teach for North Carolina; archive.

(C) “Colorado Alternative Teacher Certification”; TeacherCertificationDegrees.com, archive.

[8] Excerpt: “The State Board of Education [of Indiana] approved new rules Wednesday for teacher licensing that make it easier for college graduates without education degrees to get jobs in Indiana classrooms. […] Supporters of the new rules say they will make it easier to attract people with expertise in areas such as math and science to classrooms.”

Source: “State OKs Rules to License Teachers Without Education Degrees,” Associated Press, Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ.com), September 3, 2014; archive.

[9] Examples:

(A) There are several online courses, including coding bootcamps, that provide mentorships.

(B) A course provider named Tuts+ (pronounced “tuts plus”) has many courses where learners make projects in order to learn skills, including their Designing for Social Media Class in which students use Photoshop and Illustrator to create social media branding.

[10] Excerpt: “We also learn in our garage, on the playground, or on the internet. The notion that learning should take place in a school setting, from 8am to 3pm, is counterproductive. Most learning can take place anywhere and at any time of the day.”

Source: “Rethinking Education, Part II : 15 Misconceptions About Education,” The Big Picture (GeoPolitics.us), December 2, 2010; archive.

[11] Robert Talbert, “Two Big Mistakes in Thinking About Technology in Education,” The Chronicle (chronicle.com), June 27, 2012, archive.

[12] For an interesting take on people who want to broken education system, read John Sener’s, “Education Isn’t Broken, So Stop Trying to Fix It,” SenerKnowledge.com; archive.

[13] (A) Excerpt: “Nearly 40 percent of working-aged Americans now hold a college degree, according to a [2014] report from the Lumina Foundation.”

Source: Kyla Calvert, “Percentage of Americans with College Degrees Rises, Paying for Degrees Tops Financial Challenges,” PBS News Hour, April 22, 2014; archive.

(B) Excerpt: “[In 2012], 33.5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 24.7 percent in 1995, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.”

Source: Catherine Rampell, “Data Reveal a Rise in College Degrees Among Americans,” New York Times, June 12, 2013; archive.

[14] (A) Joseph Rauch, “Ivory Tower Movie Review: How Higher Education is Failing,” SkilledUp.com; archive.

(B) Excerpt: “[Assumption:] Higher education is a public good that is financed principally by public monies.

New reality: Higher education is viewed as a private good, increasingly financed by and for an individuals’ benefit.”

Source: Darryl G Greer, “New Assumptions and New Solutions for Higher Education Reform” (PDF), Center for Higher Education Strategic Information and Governance (HESIG),The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, HESIG Working Paper #1, January 2013; archive.

[15] (A) Lynn Olson, “Study Questions Reliability of Single-Year Test-Score Gains,” Education Week (EdWeek.org), May 23, 2001; archive.

(B) “Errors Grow with Mounting Test Pressures,” FairTest (FairTest.org), May 2006; archive.

(C) Valerie Strauss, “Five Bad Education Assumptions the Media Keeps Recycling,” Washington Post, August 29, 2013; archive.

(D) Valerie Strauss, “Five Absurdities About High-Stakes Standardized Tests,” Washington Post, August 6, 2013; archive.

[16] John Dewey: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

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