Neuroscience has the potential to improve education


Neuroscience has the potential to improve education, but its use in the classroom must be based on robust evidence, according to the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

The two organisations have launched Education and Neuroscience, a £6 million fund for collaborations between educators and neuroscientists to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of neuroscience-based educational interventions.

Research conducted by the Wellcome Trust found that many teachers were optimistic about the ability of neuroscience to improve teaching practice over the next decade, but wanted interventions to be evidence-based rather than simply yet another strategy imposed upon schools.

It also found a number of different approaches and interventions currently in use. For example, many teachers say they are currently influenced by the idea of learning styles, i.e. that different students learn best when materials are presented in different ways. In the past, this has led to learners being labelled as, for example, ‘visual learners’, and having content delivered primarily visually, an approach which may actually be harmful to learning. Some teachers also use commercially-developed interventions which claim to be based on neuroscience despite no systematic testing of such products.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chair of the Education Endowment Foundation and the Sutton Trust, said: “Improving our understanding of how the brain works will deepen our understanding of how pupils learn. Knowing the impact of neuroscience in the classroom will also make it easier to spot the plausible sounding fads and fakes, which don’t improve standards. This is essential if we are to increase the attainment of pupils, particularly those from low-income families.”

One such investigation that Dr Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning at the Wellcome Trust,  hopes will come out of the fund is based on the idea that you can improve the state of brain arousal and activity to improve readiness to learn. This technique, known as ‘biofeedback’, is currently only used by 1 per cent of the 1,200 teachers who took part in the two surveys last year.

“You can train people quite efficiently by giving them a visualisation of their level of brain activity,” said Dr Leevers. “This has yet to be trialled across different groups of children, or at scale, but there have been positive elements of its impact, particularly in groups of students with attention problems.”

The two organisations are making available £6 million for research projects in which neuroscientists and educators collaborate to develop evidence-based interventions for use in the classroom and to test in a robust and rigorous manner existing tools or practices.

Examples of projects might include systematically testing the impact of different school start times or lengths of lessons or investigating the impact of listening to music in lessons.

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