Neuroscience and Learning

A new discipline in the world of education is on the rise:  educational neuroscience.  This new field sees the complementary relationship of neurological research and education.  As a specific study of the human brain and the nervous system, neuroscience is now being tapped as having practical applications in understanding and improving people’s learning process and behaviour.

Definition of Educational Neuroscience

Also known as neural science, neuroscience is concerned with the function, structure, and development of the nervous system of which the brain is chief component.  As such, one part of the science deals with the physiology of the brain under a neurodevelopmental, neurological, or psychiatric disorder.

Education, on the other hand, is “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.”  Education of course may also take place in the workplace.

Given the above definitions, the fields of neuroscience and education don’t seem to have much in common to merit a blending of disciplines.  Yet, new careers have spawned out of this unlikely marriage and are slowly carving out their important niches today.

educational neuroscience


What exactly is educational neuroscience?  Wikipedia’s definition of educational neuroscience is:

“Educational neuroscience (or Neuroeducation, a component of Mind Brain and Education) is an emerging scientific field that brings together researchers in cognitive neuroscience, developmental cognitive neuroscience, educational psychology, educational technology, education theory and other related disciplines to explore the interactions between biological processes and education. Researchers in educational neuroscience investigate the neural mechanisms of reading, numerical cognition, attention and their attendant difficulties including dyslexia, dyscalculia 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.  ”


Old Hat, New Tricks

Although educational neuroscience as a formal discipline is novel, the concept of understanding how the brain works in order to apply the knowledge to enhancing or likewise comprehending the human learning process however is not.   brain image

What is new is the technology available now that can actually peer into the brain to show how learning takes place.

For one, Stanford University uses state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques and devices to actually see how grade school children’s brains form new synapses when making the jump from learning letters and numbers to more difficult tasks of reading and interpreting basic mathematical concepts.  According to researcher, Bruce McClandiss, the aim of Stanford’s research is to “…understand how educational experiences are driving changes in the brain, and to personalize that experience for different learners.”

How Neuroscience can be Applied to Education

Applying the Neurosciences to Educational Research:  Can Cognitive Neuroscience Bridge the Gap?,” a white paper by Michael Atherton of the University of Minnesota proposes establishes that neuroscience will impact education in three ways:

  1. The understanding of how the brain works will allow for the formulation of comprehensive theories of learning, cognition, and instruction.  Understanding how we think and learn will also lead to the creation, modification, and concretisation of present educational theories and methods.
  2. Neuroscience may contribute paradigm shifts in many cognitive and educational theories by confirming or disproving evidence supporting both traditional and revolutionary perspectives.
  1.  Neuroscience may prove to be a valuable tool to childhood education.  As a   child’s brain develops rapidly, windows of opportunity to optimally develop skills present a narrow few years.  Intervention on learning issues is then of utmost urgency.  Neuroscience may cut the guesswork and save time by providing the science to help formulate the correct educational methods needed to make the most out of that critical learning time.

Although many scientists and educators alike are gravitating toward educational neuroscience, not all, however, agree that neuroscience can actually lend much real world applications to the field of education.  Many debate that neuroscience and education just do not have much commonality.  This posit may well prove false in the face of rapid innovations in technology.  Imaging technology may have already begun to bridge that gap.  In the face of this development, the influence of neuroscience on education may very well chart a rise in the next several years.