Wednesday, July 8, 2020
US flag

Neuroscience doesn’t make teaching better

Educational neuroscience has little to offer schools or children’s education, according to new research from the UK. Understanding the role of different brain structures doesn’t help improve teaching, and it won’t give teachers any insight into how their students progress in class.

In a controversial research paper published by the American Psychological Association in the journal Psychological Review, Professor Jeffrey Bowers of the University of Bristol’s School of Experimental Psychology warns that schools are investing in expensive interventions because they claim a neuroscientific basis.

However, the paper points out that understanding the role of different structures in the brain doesn’t actually help improve teaching or assessing how children learn in school. “There are no current examples of neuroscience motivating new and effective teaching methods,” he writes, and “neuroscience is unlikely to improve teaching in the future.”

“Educational neuroscience only tells us what we know already or gives us information that is irrelevant,” the university quoted him as saying in a press release about his paper and his research. “The problems faced by classroom teachers dealing with learning difficulties can only be diagnosed and addressed through behavioral methods.”

Examples of pointless educational neuroscience findings highlighted by Professor Bowers include:

  • Using brain scans to detect whether dyslexic children have improved their reading skills, rather than testing these children’s reading skills
  • Describing learning as “brain-enabled”
  • Recommending interventions that make struggling children do more of what they’re bad at, instead of finding alternative routes to learning that play to children’s strengths

“The only relevant issue is whether the child learns, as reflected in behavior. Evidence that the brain changed in response to instruction is irrelevant [to teachers]. Teachers should avoid all teaching methods that are marketed on the basis of neuroscience and pay attention to whether the methods improve performance, as assessed in randomized control trials.”

Professor Bowers is an investigator in the University of Bristol’s “Morph Project” testing a new literacy intervention to help struggling third- and fourth-grade readers.


Teachers are limited in terms of how much they can learn from neuroscience, but the field of neuroscience can learn a lot from teachers. A big part of neuroscience deals with how the brain changes in response to learning, and learning can be brought about by good teaching.

Just because one side can’t help the other in their profession doesn’t mean the two sides shouldn’t cooperate and strive to increase the world’s understanding of our bodies. Don’t let those marketing machines rope you in, though.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

Voxitatis congratulates the COVID Class of 2020

2020 is unique and, for high school graduates, different from anything they've seen. Proms, spring sports, & many graduation ceremonies are cancelled. Time for something new.

Vertical addition (m3.nbt.2) math practice

3rd grade, numbers and operations in base 10, 2, 3-digit vertical addition practice problem

Rubber ducks (m3.oa.1) math practice

3rd grade, operational and algebraic thinking, 1, rubber ducky modeling practice problem

Distance learning begins as Covid-19 thrives

What we learn during & from coronavirus, a challenging & imminent crisis, will provide insights into so many aspects of our lives.

Calif. h.s. choir sings with social distancing

Performances with the assistance of technology can spread inspiration across the globe even as the coronavirus spreads illness and disease.

Families plan to stay healthy during closures

Although schools are doing what they can to keep students learning and healthy during the coronavirus outbreak, that duty now shifts to parents.

Illinois temporarily closes all schools

IL schools will be closed on Tuesday, March 17, through at least March 30. Schools in 18 states are now closed due to coronavirus.

Coronavirus closures & cancellations

Many schools are closed and sports tournaments cancelled across America during what the president called a national emergency: coronavirus.

Coronavirus closes schools in Seattle

The coronavirus pandemic has caused colleges to cancel classes, and now Seattle Public Schools became the nation's first large district to cancel classes due to the virus.

Most detailed images ever of the sun

A new telescope at the National Solar Observatory snapped the most detailed pictures of the sun's surface we have ever seen.

Feds boost Bay funding

Restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed received a boost in federal funding in the budget Congress passed last month.