How can we apply neuroscience findings in the classroom?

This post is also available in Dutch.

Evidence-based teaching pushes towards using only educational methodology backed by scientific research. However, for experiments done in the lab, are we sure their results can be applied in schools?

Multiple scientific fields could be use to improve education – illustration by Roselyne Chauvin

In the field of education, instructors are always looking for better teaching methods. More recently, they have looked towards neuroscience to see what the brain can tell us about learning processes in order to improve learning in the classroom. However, the context of the lab and that of the classroom are drastically different. In the lab, we scientists try to recreate the conditions that are important for learning, but learning is a very complex task. We usually explore the influence of one isolated factor at a time, but these factors aren’t usually isolated in everyday life.

For example, we know from lab studies that knowledge fades over time when it’s not used, we even know what the exact “formula” is for forgetting. App are available like ANKI to take advantage of this forgetting curve in the study process. We also know that emotions can affect memory. They can enhance our memory and learning, but at the same time our emotions can distract us as well. Many factors such as emotion or attention play a strong role in this “formula” for forgetting. In other words, our ability to memorize doesn’t only depend on how well we first learn the knowledge or how well we study it, but memory also depends on our the emotional and attentional state we’re in.

Neuroscience can help improve education methodology by investigating neural mechanisms that are helpful for learning. To empower teachers to use these new findings, let’s imagine a website where information about this kind of research is popularized so that teachers can learn more about it. Imagine that the website would offer a forum on “courses”, where teachers and researchers could discuss newly discovered learning mechanisms and how to implement them in the classroom. Researchers could see their babies (discoveries) in action, and in turn, find inspiration for the new experiments!

So new teaching methodology could result from a teacher-and-scientist collaboration. The new methodology would then need to be evaluated to measure if it indeed helps the learning process.  Particularly, an innovative methodology needs to be tested against a traditional method. More importantly, how can we measure if an educational methodology is better than a previous one?

Researchers in cognitive science have tools like tasks or questionnaires that can measure changes in different aspects of the learning process (attention, memory, etc.). So we could get some of these tools, which are also easy to use in the classroom, out of the lab and available online for these kinds of collaborations. We could also imagine a “do-the-experiment-yourself” section on the site, so that teachers can test their own innovative methodology. It would need to be an easy-to-use, quick-to-setup tool with simple instructions from the researchers on how to run the experiment.

Would all that be enough?

I believe that this kind of platform that brings the expertise of teachers and researchers together to reinvent tomorrow’s education would be a step forward for the field of education. Such a platform would help promote evidence-based teaching and would promote validated methodology within the teaching community.

Please, give us your thoughts, in the comments section below, about what else would be needed on this kind of platform?


Author : Roselyne Chauvin

Editing : Lara TodorovaMarpessa Rietbergen


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