The field of ‘neuroeducation’, also known as ‘educational neuroscience’, is currently flourishing. There is a growing interest in connecting findings from brain studies to educational practice in order to improve teaching and learning. Understanding the development of the brain and the acquisition of skills in learners enables more effective teaching and training methods to be put into practice, as well as better diagnosis of developmental disorders at an earlier stage. However, there are challenges and limitations to this approach that may hamper these benefits reaching learners, such as assumptions about the accuracy and impact of this scientific field and a lack of communication between researchers and educators (Ansari, De Smedt & Grabner, 2012).
To understand what is happening in the brain during and after learning, neuroscientists must look for patterns or areas of the brain that show a change in activation during particular tasks or activities. Methods of studying these patterns include neuroimaging (such as fMRI, EEG and MEG), neuropsychology (studying how functions are affected through brain damage or disorders) and behavioural experiments. However, no single method has a high accuracy in both time and space, which makes it difficult to pinpoint the specific neural pathways involved in learning. The best approach is therefore to combine results from several methods to gain a better understanding of the brain processes and development of the learning brain. However, the amalgamation of findings and search for patterns occurs at the expense of understanding more specific details and insights which may be crucial components of the learning process.
Further problems for the practical application of research findings tend to occur at the stage of transmitting these findings to practitioners. Teachers are usually informed of relevant research findings through continued professional development training, professional publications and the media, rather than being able to access the research articles published by the original researchers. This can lead to information becoming oversimplified and distorted, along with an overemphasis of specific details into headlines or various mnemonics for methods that teachers are encouraged to adapt their teaching style towards. This can lead to an attitude of ‘riding out’ the wave of the latest teaching fashion, and therefore any potential benefit to learners in the long-term is lost to the changing trends in training.
For learners to benefit from the discipline of neuroeducation, both researchers and educators need to work together in a two-way dialogue to develop a common language and build on previous knowledge (Ansari, Coch & De Smedt, 2011). Teachers, schools and even individual learners have a responsibility to participate in current research and inform researchers of their experiences in practice. Researchers have the responsibility to listen to those who work with learners and develop the communication of their findings in ways outside of the research community. Without interdisciplinary dialogue, the potential benefits of this field of research are lost to the pages of academic journals rather than applied to the learning environments and methods of teaching that will benefit learners today and in the future.
Ansari, D., Coch, D. & De Smedt, B. (2011). Connecting education and cognitive neuroscience: Where will the journey take us? Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43, 37-42.
Ansari, D. De Smedt, B. & Grabner, R.H. (2012). “Neuroeducation” – a critical overview of an emerging field. Neuroethics, 5, 105-117.
Katie Quinlan has been a psychology tutor for Oxford Open Learning for two years. She has recently achieved her MSc in cognitive neuroscience. As a secondary school teacher she has taught a range of subjects including religious studies, philosophy and ethics, psychology and citizenship.