Despite its common use within education, there is very little neuro-scientific evidence for a ‘brain basis’ of educational programmes.
Cognitive neuroscience is concerned with exploring the relationship between the biology of the brain and the cognition of the mind. Through this approach, existing psychological concepts relevant to education are emerging.
|Examples of environmental factors||Example of intra-individual factors||Factor affects|
|New synaptic connections |
|Temporary restrictions |
(e.g. teaching tools)
Working memory is one example of how neuroscience is helping to develop psychological concepts. Working memory refers to our capacity to temporarily hold a limited amount of information in our attention when we are processing it. In one study, adults learning long multiplication demonstrated a shift, with practice, in the areas of the brain they were using to complete their calculations (Delazer et al., 2005). At first, activity in the left inferior frontal gyrus (located in the frontal lobe), suggests considerable demand upon working memory but as students explicitly and formally followed the processes they were learning, this activity reduced and was replaced by greater activity in the left angular gyrus (located in the parietal lobe), as processes become more automatic.
There are many other psychological insights being explored by neuroimaging, some of which have broad implications for teaching and learning strategies. For example, it has been known for some time that visualisation is a useful strategy for learning. As well as being able to produce strong physiological responses, we now know that visualising an object recruits most of the brain areas activated by actually seeing it (Kosslyn, 2005). This ability of mental imagery to engage so many brain networks involved with a real perceptual experience emphasises its potential usefulness as a learning tool.
Semantics (or the construction of meaning) has also been identified as critical to understanding and remembering information. When we learn new information, the links that form between this new information and our existing knowledge serve to make it meaningful. An area of the left hemisphere (left inferior prefrontal cortex) has been identified as a key region in the construction of meaning. When learning something new, additional activity in this area occurs when we try to decide upon its meaning in relation to what we already know. The new information becomes more memorable once we have completed this process of understanding its meaning (Fletcher, Stephenson, Carpenter, Donovan & Bullmore, 2003).