Why Myths Matter

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I’ve called out a number of myths (and superstitions, and misconceptions) in my latest tome, and I’m grateful people appear to be interested.  I take this as a sign that folks are beginning to really pay attention to things like good learning design. And that’s important. It’s also important not to minimize the problems myths can create. I do that in my presentations, but I want to go a bit deeper.  We need to care about why workplace myths matter to limit our mistakes!

It’s easy to think something like “they’re wrong, but surely they’re harmless”.  What can a few misguided intentions matter?  Can it hurt if people are helped to understand if people are different?  Won’t it draw attention to important things like caring for our learners?  Isn’t it good if people are more open-minded?

Would that this were true. However, let me spin it another way: does it matter if we invest in things that don’t have an impact?  Yes, for two reasons.  One, we’re wasting time and money. We will pay for workshops and spend time ensuring our designs have coverage for things that aren’t really worthwhile. And that’s both profligate and unprofessional.  Worse, we’re also not investing in things that might actually matter.  Like, say, Serious eLearning. That is, research-derived principles about what actually works. Which is what we should be getting dizzy about.

But there are worse consequences. For one, we could be undermining our own design efforts. Some of these workplace myths may have us do things that undermine the effectiveness of our work. If we work too hard to accommodate non-existent ‘styles’, for instance, we might use media inappropriately. More problematic, we could be limiting our learners. Many of the myths want to categorize folks: styles, gender, left/right brain, age, etc.  And, it’s true, being aware of how diversity strengthens is important. But too often people go beyond; they’ll say “you’re an XYZ”, and people will self-categorize and consequently self-limit.  We could cause people not to tap into their own richness.

That’s still not the worst thing. One thing that most such instruments explicitly eschew is being used as a filter: hire/fire, or job role. And yet it’s being done. In many ways!  This means that you might be limiting your organization’s diversity. You might also be discriminatory in a totally unjustifiable way!

Myths are not just wasteful, they’re harmful. And that matters.  Please join me in campaigning for legitimate science in our profession. And let’s chase out the snake oil.  Please.


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