Getting the Neuroscience in Education Right


As the lab and the classroom move closer together, with neuroscience starting to have an increasing influence on education, it’s important that any moves to change learning environments are based on sound neuroscience.The debate about whether neuroscience should be exerting this influence is probably not the right one to be having: it is already finding its way into education through the educators.Unfortunately, however, there is plenty of ‘shaky’ or downright incorrect neuroscience around, resulting in myths abounding in the classroom. Here we look at a few of these myths and what ‘neuroeducation’ should be about.

The myths about children’s brains

A 2013 Wellcome Trust survey interviewed parents and teachers about a range of teaching methods and educational tools, in order to gather perceptions on whether they were based on solid science.The level of misunderstanding and misconception shocked many. Several theories that have been debunked by neuroscience were perceived as quite the opposite.

This included the perception that different children have different ‘learning styles’ and that left brain/right brain distinctions can be used to guide learning.This study was followed by a further study published in¬†Nature Reviews Neuroscience¬†towards the end of last year, confirming that over 90% of teachers in the UK believe that students think and learn differently, based on which of their brain’s hemispheres is ‘dominant’. The myths are clearly still being perpetuated through the education system, despite the literature confirming the opposite.

Having a little knowledge about a subject has always had the potential to get us into trouble – and within the hallowed four walls of the classroom the trouble is usually exacerbated.In truth, few people beyond the scientists really understand the neuroscience. Much of it lies buried deep within academic papers that nobody reads; people often rely on soundbites and article snippets for their information and this may be either incorrect, misleading, or misinterpreted by the reader.Unscrupulous marketers even use spurious brain science to sell products and services, claiming that they aid cognitive abilities; thus myths are created and perpetuated.