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Neuroscience in education: An (opinionated) introduction

Anderson, M. and Della Sala, S. (2012) Neuroscience in education: An (opinionated) introduction. In: Della Sala, S. and Anderson, M., (eds.) Neuroscience in Education: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 3-12.

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We begin with an apology. Our book title leads with ‘Neuroscience in education’ but after reading this book you might be forgiven for thinking this is deceptive. Our stance is that the scientific domain that has most to offer education is the study of cognition and that neuroscience itself has qualified value. Yet there is no intention to deceive in our use because it has entered the lexicon as the term that refers to the interaction of education and brain sciences (including cognitive psychology). For example, this is testified by the title of recent reports on the topic by the Royal Society (Neuroscience: implications for education and lifelong learning) and the ESRC (Neuroscience and education: issues and opportunities) and many current publications (Education and neuroscience—Howard-Jones, 2009; The brain at school: educational neuroscience in the classroom, Geake, 2009) and indeed these and many other contributions have spawned the new label of neuroeducation. So our book is targeted fairly and squarely at the centre of this new field. But the first and most important lesson we have learned in putting the book together is that while the use of the term ‘neuroscience’ is attractive for education it seems to us that it is cognitive psychology that does all the useful work or ‘heavy lifting’. The reason for this is straightforward. We believe that for educators, research indicating that one form of learning is more efficient than another is more relevant than knowing where in the brain that learning happens. There is indeed a gap between neuroscience and education. But that gap is not filled by the ‘interaction’ of neuroscientists and teachers (nearly always constituted by the former patronizing the latter) or ‘bridging’ the two fields by training teachers in basic neuroscience and having neuroscientists as active participators in educating children. Rather what will ultimately fill the gap is the development of evidence-based education where that base is cognitive psychology. Of course this is not an uncontested view and some of our contributors disagree, but ultimately it is for you the reader to draw your own conclusion.

Publication Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Psychology
Publisher: Oxford University Press
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