What is educational neuroscience?

“Education is about enhancing learning, and neuroscience is about understanding the mental processes involved in learning. This common ground suggests a future in which educational practice can be transformed by science, just as medical practice was transformed by science about a century ago.” – Report by the Royal Society, UK, 2011

A review of the field can be found here.

Wikipedia describes educational neuroscience as follows:

Educational neuroscience (or neuroeducation,[1] a component of Mind Brain and Education) is an emerging scientific field that brings together researchers in cognitive neurosciencedevelopmental cognitive neuroscienceeducational psychologyeducational technologyeducation theory and other related disciplines to explore the interactions between biological processes and education.[2][3][4][5]

Researchers in educational neuroscience investigate the neural mechanisms of reading,[4] numerical cognition,[6] attention and their attendant difficulties including dyslexia,[7][8] dyscalculia[9] and ADHD as they relate to education.

Researchers in this area may link basic findings in cognitive neuroscience with educational technology to help in curriculum implementation for mathematics education and reading education. The aim of educational neuroscience is to generate basic and applied research that will provide a new transdisciplinary account of learning and teaching, which is capable of informing education.

A major goal of educational neuroscience is to bridge the gap between the two fields through a direct dialogue between researchers and educators, avoiding the “middlemen of the brain-based learning industry”. These middlemen have a vested commercial interest in the selling of “neuromyths” and their supposed remedies.[4]

The potential of educational neuroscience has received varying degrees of support from both cognitive neuroscientists and educators.

  • Davis[10] argues that medical models of cognition, “…have only a very limited role in the broader field of education and learning mainly because learning-related intentional states are not internal to individuals in a way which can be examined by brain activity”.
  • Pettito and Dunbar[11] on the other hand, suggest that educational neuroscience “provides the most relevant level of analysis for resolving today’s core problems in education”.
  • Howard-Jones and Pickering[12] surveyed the opinions of teachers and educators on the topic, and found that they were generally enthusiastic about the use of neuroscientific findings in the field of education, and that they felt these findings would be more likely to influence their teaching methodology than curriculum content.
  • Some researchers take an intermediate view and feel that a direct link from neuroscience to education is a “bridge too far”,[13] but that a bridging discipline, such as cognitive psychology or educational psychology[14] can provide a neuroscientific basis for educational practice.

The prevailing opinion, however, appears to be that the link between education and neuroscience has yet to realise its full potential, and whether through a third research discipline, or through the development of new neuroscience research paradigms and projects, the time is right to apply neuroscientific research findings to education in a practically meaningful way.[2][4][5]

Michael Thomas, head of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience, answers key questions about the field, and the goals of the Centre, in the video below.