Neuroscience in Education: The Myths and Realities
Jan 9, 2016 Learning Methodology 3984 Views
The relationship between neuroscience and education is becoming ever closer, with the latest findings from the science starting to influence how teachers and other educators approach their profession. It is sometimes called "neuroeducation" for short.
With neuroscience uncovering more about how the brain works and our preoccupation with how to teach and learn more effectively, it was almost inevitable that the two fields would meet.
But not everyone's happy. In fact in some quarters the application of 'unproven' or 'misunderstood' neuroscience has been getting very bad press.
What's the myth and what's the reality?
Bad neuroscience in education
A study from the UK's Bristol University published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience found that a large proportion of teachers in Europe and China believe commonly-held myths that may be applied in their teaching.
Teachers from the UK, Turkey, Greece, China and the Netherlands were presented with seven myths about the brain and asked whether they believed them to be true. Some of the key findings were as follows:
- Over half of teachers in the UK, the Netherlands and China believe that children are less attentive after sugary drinks and snacks.
- Over a quarter of teachers in the UK and Turkey believe that a pupil's brain will shrink if they drink fewer than six to eight glasses of water a day.
- Over 90 per cent of teachers believe that a student will learn better if they receive information in their preferred learning style - auditory, visual, kinaesthetic.
- Over 90 per cent of teachers in the UK believe students are either left brained or right brained.
There is "no convincing evidence" to support any of these theories and some have been disproven. The conclusion reached in the study was that teachers are often basing their methods on theories that have no educational value and this is why doubts have been expressed about the value of neuroscience in the classroom.
However, teachers' misunderstandings of the findings from neuroscience should not necessarily cloud the fact that many of the findings do have great educational value and can promote better teaching and learning. The problem is that teachers do not receive training in neuroscience during their own professional education so they may be incorrectly applying information.
Like with a lot of knowledge, a little neuroscience in the wrong hands can be dangerous. But in the right hands it can be precious.
The potential of neuroscience to improve education
With erroneous, dumbed-down ideas about neuroscience prevalent it is doubly hard for neuroscientists to get a fair hearing with educational policy makers.
To rise above the misunderstandings and confusion, people who understand the science and can communicate it effectively should train educators and the two fields should collaborate more to design teaching and learning programs.
More programs are being instigated to do just that. For educators serious about redesigning educational programs to make them align more with how the brain actually works there is plenty of potential.
The brains of young learners are incredibly complex and varied. But programs can be focused on enhancing cognitive, emotional and behavioural skills via frameworks that are aimed at optimal learning environments - both more innovative and more playful. In this way there is potential to enhance curriculum delivery, increase learning outcomes, and develop purposeful, creative, autonomous learners.
For instance neuroscience has helped uncover the common social cognitive needs of all human beings. By specifically addressing these in the learning environment, as well as developing emotional fitness, self-control and a values mindset, it is possible to create these new environments.