In our regular feature highlighting the work of members of the UK education suppliers’ trade body BESA, Education Today this month hears from GARY BRYANT of ITSI; and MURRAY MORRISON, founder of Tassomai.

Beware the “neuromyths”

The neuroscience of learning has received a lot of attention recently. Academics whose research focuses on Mind-Brain-Education are increasingly studying memory, attention and motivation which could dramatically impact modern day education. Unfortunately, in the past some oversimplified and unconfirmed theories have gained more traction than reputable studies.


• Many will remember the hallowed ‘Learning Styles’ that dominated the 20th Century field of education, all based around the question ‘how do your students learn best?’ Through sound, sight or touch? We now know that this is a very simplistic approach. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham explains that it is not catering to the individual child’s learning style that affects achievement, but rather utilising the modality that best supports specific content that determines whether it is mastered.

• The ‘Learning Pyramid’ is another neuromyth that educators have clung to for far too long. In addition to the fact that there are many different versions of this model circulating, this one size fits all approach to education is highly unscientific. The percentages appropriated to each category is more or less random, although it does seem logical. While it may be a useful model in training teachers, it should not be taken for gospel.

• Is it even necessary to point out that the ‘Right Brain/Left Brain’ theory is not only dead, but harmful? By emphasising that a certain subject is not within a student’s natural capability, teachers discourage them from trying. In a time when we need students to embrace the more complex STEM subjects, anything that could turn them away from these should be rejected.


• It’s no longer practical to assume students will learn primarily by listening; ‘Active Learning’ is the new gold standard. Lessons that allow students to be creative promote a sense of ownership over a topic, and provide opportunities to consider whether a subject area is interesting to them.

• With so much information constantly at our fingertips, the teacher is not considered to be the primary provider of all knowledge anymore. It therefore makes sense for the fact-based learning to be done individually, and for class time to be used for discussions and interactive projects to deepen understanding. The ‘Flipped Classroom’ has taken education by storm in recent years, from primary school through to university, and for good reason. While it is an effective model, it is dependent on the technology available to students. • Learning content or skills by perfecting the easier concepts and then moving on to more difficult ones seems like common sense, which is why most education has followed this model for centuries. But ongoing research is showing that a process called ‘Interleaving’ whereby you mix related skills together, rather than moving on from them once learned, has benefits in forming long-term memory.

While the brain is in no way ‘figured out’, we do know a lot more than we did a few decades ago. It only follows then that our teaching practices should change with the times. In order for our education system to keep up and to prepare our next generation for tomorrow’s workforce, it is imperative that teachers are able to confidently navigate between the neuromyths that have become an accepted part of teaching culture, and facts. 14

The revision revolution changing ed tech and UK schools

Gary Bryant

Something exciting is happening across schools in Britain. A confluence of events conspiring to change the way everyone works – teachers, students, leadership and suppliers. There was a time, when for a week around Christmas, and for several more in May and June, a silence descended on the land as the teenagers of Britain retired to their bedrooms and drew the first tentative marks on their revision timetable. For a few weeks, they

Murray Morrison

revised like mad up to the day of the exam and then ran into the hall to write it all down before the knowledge fell back out of their heads in a crumpled heap. But those days are over... With alterations to exam specifications, and an approach that requires schools to demonstrate grade improvements year-on-year, the onus has changed. With an increase in material to be covered, and the removal of coursework, there is less time for recapping and more pressure on the final exam.

Students now need to perform like the academic equivalents of elite athletes – at a mental peak and ready to excel in a tough test. Fortunately for them, we're in the midst of a revision revolution. One that's driven by technology but being embraced by teachers and their students. And it's a revolution that we at Tassomai are proud to be part of.

In my tutoring days, I was always trying to get my students to approach revision differently: “Study like an athlete! You wouldn’t prepare for a marathon by doing nothing all year and then running 26 miles the day before”. But the ‘training’ methods that are so effective in revision (such as starting early, spacing, interleaving, constant feedback and adaptation) also make it an organisational nightmare. When I did get students to follow my little-and-often approach, the impact was clear, but it took work for them.

If the student is the ‘athlete’, the teacher is their coach. I worked with students one-to-one, and that took some organising – replicating my methods for a class would have simply been impossible. It was a desire to teach better that drove me to develop an online programme called Tassomai. What started as a niche tool to automate my approach for my students has now exploded into one that serves thousands.

However, it’s not entrepreneurs that are driving the pace of EdTech development in the UK, but teachers. The cultural shift in schools, precipitated in large part by curriculum changes, means they are looking to the resources at their disposal like ours and telling us what they need. Schools have changed from being bodies with ‘purchasing power’ alone to ones that realise they have a power to influence development: ‘partnership power’. The openness and collaboration that I see every day with our school users is exciting to me, not only because I see my product being adopted more widely, but because I know this engagement with schools will make our product better over time.

As we look forward to the Bett Show this year, I look forward to a celebration of the British education environment: a place where teachers, leaders and suppliers are sharing ideas, developing them in partnership and tackling the challenges we all face together.

Find out more: January 2018

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