Would you like to do a PhD in Educational Neuroscience?

Bloomsbury Doctoral Training Centre Studentship Applications are now invited.

Applications are now open for ESRC studentships via the Bloomsbury Doctoral Training Centre, which offers a training route in Educational Neuroscience. Further details will be available shortly on the DTC website at https://bloomsburydtcacuk.wordpress.com/

Two briefing events for intending applicants and prospective supervisors will also be held in November, both at the Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL:

  • Student briefing session – 12.30 – 2.00 Wednesday 26 November in Room 731
  • Supervisor briefing session – 12.30 – 2.00 Thursday 27 November in Room 642

The closing date for applications is Friday 6 February 2015.

Bilingual children ‘show advantage’ in noisy classrooms

Researchers have found evidence that youngsters who speak two languages maintain their focus better. A study has found bilingual primary school children learn more effectively than monolinguals within noisy environments like classrooms. Bilingual Article

Anglia Ruskin University’s Dr Roberto Filippi carried out research in Cambridge primary schools, focusing on children aged between seven and 10. Michael Thomas, from the CEN, was a co-author on the study. The study found bilingual children were more able to maintain focus on a main task, which in this case was the identification of the subject in a short sentence in the presence of noise.

Pupils who only speak one language did not reach the same level of efficiency, showing that noise negatively affects their ability to sustain attention, especially when comprehending more difficult sentences.

Dr Filippi said: “Previous research has shown that bilingualism has a positive effect on cognitive abilities, but there were no studies investigated whether these advantages extended to learning in noisy environments.


“Primary schools are the key stages for the development of formal learning in the first years of life. However, they are also remarkably noisy. Therefore the ability to filter out auditory interference is particularly important within the context of an educational environment.”

Dr Filippi was joined by international researchers from Birkbeck in London and the Northwestern University in Chicago. The study provides further evidence of the importance of learning a second language early in the UK educational system. The research is in line with previous research in adult second language learners, which implicated the cerebellum as the neural structure involved in mediating language interference when the bilingual focuses on a single language.

Workshop on the Science of Learning 21 October at the Royal Society

As part of the state visit of the President of Singapore to the UK later this month, the Centre for Educational Neuroscience ran a 1-day workshop in collaboration with Singapore’s National Research Foundation on the Science of Learning at the Royal Society on Tuesday 21st October 2014.

The workshop included presentations from Dr. Hilary Leevers of the Wellcome Trust on current funding developments in the UK for educational neuroscience, from Prof. Derek Bell, Director of Learnus, on how to advance the field of educational neuroscience, from several members of CEN including Prof. Denis Mareschal, Prof. Andy Tolmie, Prof. Michael Thomas and Dr. Iroise Dumontheil on specific research projects, and talks from a number of leading researchers from Singapore including Dr. Mariam Sharifah (Principal Specialist, Educational Psychologist, Ministry of Education), Prof. Ellen Do (Co-Director, Keio-NUS CUTE Center 
Interactive and Digital Media Institute, National University of Singapore), Prof. Ranga Krishnan (Dean, Dike-NUS Graduate Medical School), Prof. Balazs Gulyas (Professor of Translational Neuroscience, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), and A/Prof Manu Kapur (Head, Learning Sciences Lab, National Institute of Education, Singapore).


CEN awarded £1m grant to develop and test method to help kids learn maths and science

The CEN was among six projects in educational neuroscience funded by a joint initiative between the Education Endowment Fund and Wellcome Trust to develop and test educational interventions based on latest neuroscience findings.

The CEN’s project is called UnLocke and targets the learning of counterintuitive concepts in maths and science in primary age children. It aims to test the benefit of training pupils to suspend their pre-existing beliefs when it comes to solving mathematical or scientific questions, for example correcting the seemingly logical notion that a heavy object will fall faster than a light one, or the impulse that the cells that make up an elephant should be bigger than those that make up a mouse.

The project team is led by Prof. Denis Mareschal (Birkbeck) and includes Prof. Michael Thomas, Dr. Iroise Dumontheil (both Birkbeck), Prof. Andy Tolmie, Dr. Kaska Porayska-Pomsta, Dr. Emily Farran, Dr. Sveta Meyer (all from Institute of Education) and Prof. Derek Bell (Director of Learnus).

For further information, see Birkbeck, Wellcome Trust, Education Endowment Fund.

Listen to Denis talk on this morning’s Radio 4 Today Programme (scroll through to 2:47:00!)

Primary schools are being recruited to take part in the research. For more information contact unlocke@psychology.bbk.ac.uk.


Here at the CEN, we are excited to get cracking on this innovative project!


Forthcoming talk in October: Prof. Daniel Ansari, “Building blocks of mathematical competence: Evidence from brain and behaviour”

Prof. Daniel Ansari, University of Western Ontario, Canada, will be giving a talk at the Centre for Educational Neuroscience entitled “Building blocks of mathematical competence: Evidence from brain and behaviour”, on Tuesday 7th October.

The talk will be at 4pm in the first floor seminar room of the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, 27-28 Woburn Square.

No need to book – All welcome.

Forthcoming lecture in September: Prof. Chia-Ju Liu – “Affective Learning: Evidence from Neuroscience”

Prof. Chia-Ju Liu, National Kaohsiung Normal University, Taiwan, will be giving a talk on “Affective Learning: Evidence from Neuroscience” on Thursday 18th September.

The talk will be at 4pm in Room 534, in Birkbeck Main Building.

Come on find out about the emotions! All welcome.


Dr. Chia-Ju Liu is currently the Dean of College of Science, the Director of Science Education Center and Educational Neuroscience Lab at National Kaohsiung Normal University. Her research recently focuses on educational neuroscience, including cognitive science and science learning, scientific thinking and processes. Her current research projects are “The influences of different dimensions of science representations on students’ understanding of science concepts”, “The study of consisted elements of scientific creativity with ERP”, “The study on the effects of spatial ability and visual representation on forming mental image in learning science”, “Exploring the role of imagery ability in learning science concept”, and “Nonlinear analysis of brain dynamics”. These research aims to explore and characterise students’ scientific learning practices and reasoning processes based on educational neuroscience using EEG/ERPs. With the Eye Tracking methodology, Prof. Liu aims to identify learners’ exact scientific learning process, and enhance their science learning experience. Her work has been published in several SCI, SSCI, and TSSCI journals. Her research work has been published in International Journal of Science Education, International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, Journal of Science Education and Technology, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Neuroscience Letters, Learning Environments Research and other educational journal.

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.