Learnus launch at the House of Lords

Members of the CEN attended the launch of Learnus at the House of Lords on 11 June 2014. Learnus is a lobby group, dedicated to bringing together teachers and those who specialise in the study of the brain, the mind and behaviour in order to bring the insights gained from the scientific study of learning to the practice of teaching. The CEN and Learnus have a strategic partnership aiming to advance dialogue and translation between neuroscience and education.

photo 5

From left to right, Prof. Denis Mareschal, Dr. Irois Dumontheil, Dr. Chloe Marshall, Prof. Michael Thomas.

At the Learnus launch, Professor Dame Uta Frith, DBE, FRS, FBA gave a keynote speech where she compared the enterprise of linking neuroscience and education with the construction of the Channel Tunnel – long-term, involving many resources and thousands of people, but with the potential of a great and enduring benefit. See here for a text of her speech.


New publications

Two recent publications from the CEN illustrate how neuroscience methods can be linked to educational outcomes. These papers address, respectively, the implications of changes in brain plasticity for adult education, and why early diagnosed language delay in children sometimes resolves of its own accord and other times persists and requires intervention.

Knowland, V. C. P., & Thomas, M. S. C. (May, 2014). Educating the adult brain: How the neuroscience of learning can inform educational policy. International Review of Education.

Description: “The acquisition of new skills in adulthood can positively affect an individual’s quality of life, including their earning potential. In some cases, such as the learning of literacy in developing countries, it can provide an avenue to escape from poverty. In developed countries, job retraining in adulthood contributes to the flexibility of labour markets. For all adults, learning opportunities increase participation in society and family life. However, the popular view is that adults are less able to learn for an intrinsic reason: their brains are less plastic than in childhood. In this article, we review what is currently known from neuroscience research about how brain plasticity changes with age, with a particular focus on the ability to acquire new skills in adulthood. Anchoring our review in the examples of the adult acquisition of literacy and new motor skills, we address five specific questions: (1) Are sensitive periods in brain development relevant to learning complex educational skills like literacy? (2) Can adults become proficient in a new skill? (3) Can everyone learn equally effectively in adulthood? (4) What is the role of the learning environment? (5) Does adult education cost too much? We identify areas where further research is needed and conclude with a summary of principles for enhancing adult learning now established on a neuroscience foundation.”

Thomas, M. S. C. & Knowland, V. C. P. (April, 2014). Modelling mechanisms of persisting and resolving delay in language development. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.

Description: “Purpose: This study employed neural network modeling to investigate the possible mechanistic basis of developmental language delay and test the viability of the hypotheses that persisting delay (PD) and resolving delay (RD) lie on a mechanistic continuum with normal development. Method: A population modeling approach was used to study individual rates of development in 1000 simulated individuals acquiring a notional language domain (here represented by English past tense). Variation was caused by  differences in internal neurocomputational learning parameters, as well as the richness of the language environment. An early language delay group was diagnosed and individual trajectories then traced. Results: Quantitative variations in learning mechanisms were sufficient to produce PD and RD subgroups in similar proportions to empirical observations. In the model, persistent language delay was caused by limitations in processing capacity, while resolving delay was caused by low plasticity. Richness of the language environment did not predict the emergence of PD, but did predict the final ability levels of individuals with RD. Conclusion: Mechanistically, it is viable that PD and RD are only quantitatively different. There may be an interaction between environmental factors and outcome groups, with individuals with RD influenced more by the richness of the language environment.”

AAAS hosts one-day symposium on neuroscience and education in Washington

On May 14, the American Association for the Advancement of Science hosted a one day symposium on neuroscience and education: “This day-long symposium, co-sponsored by AAAS and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, exposed the AAAS Fellows, and other attendees, to the emerging field of Educational Neuroscience (also known as Mind Brain and Education or Neuroeducation) and how new research in neuroscience and psychology can make a difference in how we teach and learn. Neuroscience and its relationship to policy has also been a popular topic in the media recently, as seen by the multiple articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine, Science, etc. following President Obama’s announcement of the BRAIN Initiative.”

The keynote presentation was given by Mariale Hardimanand speakers included Laura-Ann Petitto, Guinevere Eden, Brett Miller, Laurie Cutting, Robert Slavin, and Layne Kalbfleisch.

The program for the symposium can be found here, and materials from the symposium, including videos and slide presentations, can be found here.

Study launched into effects of mobile phone use in teenagers

CEN researchers Iroise Dumontheil and Michael Thomas are part of a team which this week launched a study to investigate the effects of mobile phone use in teenagers. The study, led by Imperial College, was commissioned by the Department of Health and funded by Government and industry. It will will investigate whether mobile phones and wireless technologies affect children’s cognitive development. The study will track 2,500 11- and 12-year-olds from September, examining their cognitive ability – thinking skills, memory and attention – and then repeat the tests in 2017. See here for BBC coverage of the study launch.


Summer term CEN Research Group schedule now available

The schedule for the CEN Research Group meetings through to July is now available. Highlights include seminar presentations from Professor Susan Gathercole from University of Cambridge on interventions for working memory impairments in developmental disorders, and from Dr. Roi Cohen Kadosh from University of Oxford on whether neuroscience can enhance academic achievements. Other sessions consider mobile technology and deaf students, twin studies of reading development, spatial cognition and STEM education, and an e-learning tool for biochemical pathways. Sessions take place on Tuesday afternoons. See tab above for further details.

New: 1-day workshop on 14 March

The CEN is running a 1-day workshop on current research in educational neuroscience, aimed primarily at PhD students working in education, psychology, neuroscience, and related areas. Themes will cover literacy, mathematics, science, and intervention studies. For further information, see main menu above.

Bishop blogs on educational neuroscience

Professor Dorothy Bishop at the University of Oxford writes a much-followed blog on psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Recently she wrote about her scepticism with respect to claims made for educational neuroscience. See her blog here. Read the comments underneath her blog for responses from researchers working within educational neuroscience, including among others Daniel Ansari, Chloe Marshall, and Michael Thomas, as well as psychologists such as Frank Ramus, and authors who have written on education such as Daniel Willingham.

Here is the cartoon Dorothy used to accompany her piece!

cartoon rats


NEW – One day course, “Introduction to Educational Neuroscience”

A new one day course for teachers entitled “An Introduction to Educational Neuroscience” will take place on Saturday 17th May at the Institute of Education. The aims of the course are to:

  • introduce the disciplines that underlie educational neuroscience: developmental psychology, neuroscience, and evidence-based education.
  • introduce some of the current research in educational neuroscience.
  • dispel some prevalent ‘neuromyths’.
  • consider the future of educational neuroscience.

The course will be delivered by Prof Michael Thomas, Prof Denis Mareschal, Dr Iroise Dumontheil, Prof Andy Tolmie and Dr Chloë Marshall of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience. Further details can be found here: