Royal Society’s Summary of Implications of Neuroscience on Education

The Royal Society, a self-governing Fellowship of scientists from around the world dedicated to “excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity,” released a series of modules in 2011 as part of their Brain Waves Project. The four modules explore the intersection of neuroscience, society and public policy with summarized analyses of research, challenges and recommendations.

The second module, Neuroscience: Implications for education and lifelong learning, is of particular importance for educators and policy makers alike. As we find that the world of neurology continues to make strides in understanding how the brain develops, changes and learns, we also find that there is a hunger for such knowledge at the classroom level. As a result there are more and more programs that help bridge the gap between research and practice.

Below is the Summary excerpt from the module. While the whole report is worth reading, these overarching key insights provide a good snapshot.

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. In this report we consider some of the key insights from neuroscience that could eventually lead to such a transformation.

  • Neuroscience research suggests that learning outcomes are not solely determined by the environment. Biological factors play an important role in accounting for differences in learning  ability between individuals.
  • By considering biological factors, research has advanced the understanding of specific learning doffculties, such as dyslexia and dyscalculia. Likewise, neuroscience is uncovering why certain types of learning are more rewarding than others.
  • The brain changes constantly as a result of learning, and remains ‘plastic’ throughout life. Neuroscience has shown that learning a skill changes the brain and that these changes revert when practice of the skill ceases. Hence ‘use it or lose it’ is an important principle for lifelong learning.
  • Resilience, our adaptive response to stress and adversity, can be built up through education with lifelong effects into old age.
  • Both acquisition of knowledge and mastery of self-control benefitt future learning. Thus, neuroscience has a key role in investigating means of boosting brain power.
  • Some insights from neuroscience are relevant for the development and use of adaptive digital technologies. These technologies have the potential to create more learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom, and throughout life. This is exciting given the knock-on effects this could have on wellbeing, health, employment and the economy.
  • There is great public interest in neuroscience, yet accessible high quality information is scarce. We urge caution in the rush to apply so-called brain-based methods, many of which do not yet have a sound basis in science. There are inspiring developments in basic science although practical applications are still some way off.
  • The emerging field of educational neuroscience presents opportunities as well as challenges for education. It provides means to develop a common language and bridge the gulf between educators, psychologists and neuroscientists.

To take a look at a quick look at the module’s education policy recommendations, check out this post over at Q.E.D. Foundation.

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