Communicating research to support the evolution of teaching

Learnus Publications


  7th February 2018
Maximising the Potential of the Adolescent Brain

The challenge
Adolescence is a major period of change for everyone: physically, physiologically, psychologically and socially and accounts for over half the time young people spend in compulsory education. The summit, held on 7th February 2018, was convened to address the question:

How can we maximise the potential of the adolescent brain?


  9th February 2017
How can Findings from Educational Neuroscience Reshape Teaching and Learning, now and in the Future?

This unique summit brought together teachers, school leaders, researchers and practitioners to share and explore ways in which research and evidence about how we learn can be used more effectively to improve educational practice and make an impact on young people's learning.


engaging brains and building networks
Published 2014

Author: Derek Bell, Director of Learnus

(click on image of booklet for the PDF)

Advances in scientific techniques and technology now make it possible to gain greater insights into the structure and function of the brain.  There is an increasing ability to test theories of learning in relation to brain activity. There is also widespread interest in the field of educational neuroscience and a momentum nationally and internationally for developing this further.

As summarised in a report from the Royal Society in 2011, "Education is about enhancing learning and neuroscience is about understanding the mental processes involved in learning,.  The 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."

The Cognitive Neuroscience of Economic Status (SES)

In this talk, Professor Thomas discussed recent cognitive neuroscience evidence on how SES influences cognitive and brain development.  SES has been identified as a key environmental measure that influences health, cognition, and educational outcomes in child development.

The Impact of Touch-Screens on Early Child Development:
Is it Really All Bad News?

Professor Karmiloff-Smith opened her presentation by reminding everyone that humans are born at an early stage in their development trajectory and that interaction with social and physical environment can have a significant impact on their neuro-cognitive development. Over time, as a function of responding to environmental stimuli (sound, vision, touch, smell) connections are made between cells in the brain.  As the child gets older there is a dynamic process by which some of the connections are strengthened and others, the less used ones, are pruned.

Lessons from Neuroscience for Music Learning

Professor Stewart reminded the audience that experiences and skill-learning bring about changes in the brain through modification of neurons and the networks they develop.  Making music is often referred to as a 'super skill' in that it involves the use of memory, complex integration of a range of sensory information and fine muscular co-ordination.  It also requires the continuous monitoring of the performance for errors and the conversion of visual inputs into intricate motor programmes.,

Working Memory in the Classroom:
Linking Research and Practice

Professor Gathercole set the scene by explaining that 'working memory' (WM) is generally used as a more up to date term for "short-term memory" and that it is considered to be, "the capacity to hold material in mind and manipulate as necessary for a brief period". It acts as a mental work space in which it is possible to hold a series of instructions or steps of a calculation until the task is completed.

The Science and Art of Reasoning

Professor Mareschal set the scene for the roundtable discussions by considering the basis of reasoning, what reasoning involved and the historical context by referring specifically to the work of Piaget on logical thinking.  Using examples of knowledge-based inferential reasoning he emphasized how difficult logical reasoning was and how much we relied on pre-existing knowledge and experience in coming to conclusions.

Understanding Learning

Professor Thomas set the scene for the roundtable discussions by considering the question, How
could neuroscience influence education? (and vice versa!).

His presentation compared the relationship between neuroscience and education to those between: Biology and Medicine, and Physics and Architecture.  In particular he developed the analogy of medicine in relation to improvements in health.  While acknowledging advances that have been made with regard to understanding some specific learning conditions, he suggested that in the short-term the benefits of neuroscience are likely to be relatively few and of a general nature.