Neuromyth # 4

The aim of this mini-series (5 parts) is to explore the popular neuromyths and bust them with some science, some sense, and some anecdotes.

So far we talked about myths around left/right brain, around how little we use our brain and how we can't learn as adults. Today we will explore a popular myth around learning styles.

Did anyone tell you they are a visual person or an auditory person? Did you yourself believe things about your learning styles? If you did, I don't blame you at all.

Myth: We are unique so we have a unique learning style

From my personal experience this was one of the most harmful neuromyth I fell prey to. It is harmful because it makes you believe something not so true about your brain. When a questionnaire tells you, "you are <this>" and you will start believing and behaving that way. Beliefs are powerful. A belief backed by a science-like statement is all the more powerful. So the harm factor also increases exponentially.

For example, a student good at music (auditory) will loose interest in subjects like history and geography (not so auditory) if they are told they learn best via auditory style only.  Science shows that learning styles do not improve performance. It takes so much time to unlearn a belief and learn the truth. Some folks never get to change their beliefs in a lifetime.

Here is my personal story.

It was 2008. On a sunny day, in the beaches of beautiful San Diego we had our leadership retreat. Before the retreat started, a report was handed over to me saying I am a R in VARK. What that meant is, I learn better by reading and writing only. I took that report to heart and I believed when someone with immense credibility said that via a report to me. Till then I never read much of non-fiction books. As a new manager, I was excited about this new report and I started reading them. I truly believed reading and writing is my only way of learning.

Boy, I struggled.

My reading speed was less than 200 words per minute. I could not write even 100 words in 45 minutes. I keep at it for years together. In the meantime I said no to podcasts, Youtube, mentors, programs and I said a big yes to reading books. Life went on and it was 2013.

By 2012 I moved to India and I had to travel 120 mins everyday to work. It was boring to drive all alone. I could not listen to music so much either because I listen them mostly in repeat. I remembered that I was not an auditory person. I spent most time taking business calls during these long drives. The call drops and signal issues just got to my nerves. As time went by Youtube released a new feature called OFFLINE. To combat the signal issues, I downloaded a couple of songs using offline and I kept it going. I could not repeat the songs if i liked it so much, so it was a different kind of pain. It was that time 4G hit India in a big way and we had better connectivity suddenly.

The drives were getting horribly boring one day Youtube just threw a talk as an act of serendipity. It was one of those Talks at Google by Daniel Levitt. I loved the ride that day. From then on, I listened to Google Talks. They were long talks by authors and I don't have to even touch my phone. Mostly I was listening (could not watch while drive). It was super interesting that I discovered more books and more ideas through Google Talks.

Youtube kept the serendipity on and I threw some TED talks in the mix. I narrowed down to Google Talks for long drive and Ted talks for short drives. I even developed a habit called TED-A-DAY and I listened to more than 1000+ talks till date. While this boredom problem solving was going on in life, I was growing in my career as well.  By then people recognised my gray hair and asked me to deliver keynote speeches.

I started speaking in large conferences. I was surprised my keynotes were very well received and I got way too many opportunities. When I reviewed it my coach (yeah, I had all those fancy things then), it did strike me that Google Talks and TED listening gave me a great deal of learning through an unconscious osmosis for years together.

That day I had a light bulb moment about my VARK report and I remembered by R. What an idiot I was to believe in such things? Painfully I let go of the belief and started rebuilding myself as a better learner.

Today my best learnings come from Videos, Voice, Visual and then Verbal. In that order. Don't get me wrong. Reading books and writing really helped me as a person but the struggle of learning and growth was insurmountable. I had to drag myself up to read a book.

Life could have been so much easier if I did not take that learning style to heart.

Here is my observation: Our brains are hungry learning machines. It gets excited with every new learning. That is how it expands its horizon. The learning can come in any form: books (audio, kindle and physical), short courses (skillshare, udemy etc), videos(IGTV, Youtube), podcasts, long courses (diplomas, bootcamps etc), blogs, articles, essays & newsletters (I still don't know the difference), conferences (online and offline), wikis & confluences (curated collections), apps, peer groups, coaches, observation and more.

I still read books. I also watch Youtube. I take structured courses from skillshare /domestika etc. I attend long term programs (Cohort programs). I teach online and in universities to learn more (agenda behind teaching 🙈). I sketch and I love comics. I learnt economics and statistics in cartoon style. I am not restricting myself to my so called learning styles. We prefer to learn different things in different ways.

Pay keen attention to your learning preferences and keep learning. Your brain doesn't care how you learn, all it cares about is you learn interesting and exciting things everyday that feeds the curiosity. So forget about your learning style and focus on your learning preference. I'll go one step forward and advice you to pay attention to what subjects makes your brain learn better in what modalities and stick to those.

Keep learning 🥂 Your style doesn't matter.

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