Annie Murphy Paul: Learning Beyond the Myths

annie-murphy-paul-964x670A myth, at a basic level, is nothing more than a widely held but false belief or idea. Myths are present in almost all aspects of life, including learning and education.

But Why Do Myths Persist?

This is a challenge that psychologists have been researching for decades. There’s plenty of factors that are in play here, from personal bias, to repeated exposure to information, to marketing messages designed to misinform, and many others. Quite often, one of the drivers that drive a myth is that for one reason or another it just feels right; it seems logical. Myths are so powerful that even when confronted with verifiable information that contradicts the validity of a certain idea, people persist in believing in the myth.

So how do you battle a myth? The fact is there’s no easy answer on that front either. On one hand you have the strategy of correcting “bad” information with “good” information. That seems like a logical path to take, but the human mind sometimes defies logic. We may reject new information outright if it contradicts something we believe in on a visceral level. In fact, pushing against this barrier might actual add strength to a myth, as those who believe in in the myth raise their voices to defend it, promoting it further. Of course, the alternative to confronting verifiable information related to myths is to be silent, and that doesn’t work well either. There’s no simple way to bust a myth.

So What to Do?

I’ve always felt that one of the challenges with dispelling a myth is that the very concept of dispelling something implies there are two sides: right and wrong. Nobody likes to be on the side labelled wrong, especially if admitting to being on that side reduces the value of our work or contribution. Being told you are wrong is viewed by many as an attack, and a natural response to any attack is to defend yourself.

So I suggest we leave right and wrong out of the equation, and instead try to just have a conversation. Present information, and the research that backs the information up. Invite feedback and questions, but try to leave right, wrong, and judgement in general out of the equation. I suspect that if you allow people to marinate on new information in a low-pressure, judgement-free zone they’re more likely to consider all sides of an argument. That’s the environment that’s needed for people to be open to new ideas that go against personal belief.

Learning Beyond the Myths

It’s in that spirit that we’ve invited Annie Murphy Paul as one of our featured keynotes at the Learning Solutions Conference and Expo in March 2016. Annie is a book author, magazine journalist, consultant and speaker who helps people understand how we learn and how we can do it better. During her keynote she’ll be exploring how learning works, addressing many popularly held beliefs and examining research that verifies and/or conflicts with each belief.

The mission of the Learning Solutions Conference and Expo is quite simple: To share what works. We’re excited to be welcoming Annie to the conference to share what current research says about learning and how that might shape the work we do as learning professionals.

To learn more about the conference and how you can join us in Orlando this spring, visit

Want a jump start on exploring some of the research Annie explores related to learning? Check out her TED Talk examining what we learn before we are even born.

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