Making better use of neuroscience in teaching



Over the past several years, as neuroscience has given us a better understanding of the way the brain processes information, we have seen the emergence of new pedagogical methods aimed at applying this knowledge to teaching. However, the mechanisms and social benefits of neuroeducation remain little known.

It would be advantageous to foster a critical dialogue between neuroscience researchers and the various stakeholders involved in developing educational programs.

Suparna Choudhury, a social and transcultural psychiatry researcher at McGill University, studied the development of neuroeducation approaches in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States by means of classroom observation and interviews with students, members of the teaching staff, school administrators, educational policy makers and education researchers.

She found a widespread interest in using hand gestures and certain keywords to stimulate young people's brains and help manage their emotions, especially in the United States. A secular version of the concept of "mindfulness" – derived from Buddhism – is also highly popular due to the potential benefits to learning of being in the present, proper breathing, regulating emotions, etc.

The researcher also noted that several myths stemming from a poor understanding of certain neuroscience discoveries have influenced neuroeducation programs. For example, many teachers wrongly believe that some students use the left hemisphere of their brains to learn while others use the right, and that teaching practices should be adapted accordingly.

Suparna Choudhury's work examines the value of using neuroscience in education and emotion regulation, as well as the ethical and cultural implications of this trend. It shows the importance of better interpreting advances in neuroscience to ensure that they are applied appropriately to teaching. To that end, her findings suggest that it would be advantageous to foster a critical dialogue between neuroscience researchers and the various stakeholders involved in developing educational programs.

The results also underscore the desirability of examining the limitations of these approaches, which tend to reduce education to an individual challenge and to overlook the social, cultural and political aspects that may also promote or hinder learning.