Trans/Informing our Practices Through Knowledge and Use of Educational Neuroscience

Trans/Informing our Practices Through Knowledge and Use of Educational Neuroscience

By: Ken Purnell

As educators, we love new ideas on how to enhance our practices. We try the latest and greatest and just hope that it is not yet another fad that may fade away again. Good news: Educational Neuroscience is here to stay and is solidly evidence-based in scientific research and good practice.

To begin, we recognize that for much of the past in education we have observed behaviours and developed some excellent (and not so excellent) ideas based on our research and observations drawing upon our prior knowledge, theories, and assumptions. We have particularly drawn upon psychology (about 150 years old) and education (about 100 years old in its modern iteration or thousands if you go back to Aristotle). Now, since the early-1990s, we have new technologies like fRMI, PET, EEG. and MRI in the medical area that allow us to scan and observe the brain in real time. The subsequent growth of brain research for medical and other purposes has been exponential, especially over the past two decades. Until about 2010, the gap between taking neuroscientific findings and using them directly in the classroom was often considered a “bridge too far” (Bruer, 1997). Well, that has changed in the last decade or so, with a sub-field within neuroscience developing—educational neuroscience.

"Education about the brain–neuroeducation–is extraordinarily powerful for our students."
Ken Purnell
TT Author

Psychology researchers were quick to see the benefits of the new brain scanning techniques and educational experts have done so more recently. The growth of related research has been exponential (see Figure 1), and we now know much more about the brain from the past 30 years than the rest of human history put together. Knowing about our powerhouse—the brain, and how the brain and body are one (only differentiated in anatomy and similar books and resources) is fundamental to teaching and learning. Sleep, nutrition, movement, and brain-friendly learning experiences matter in creating and maintaining optimal learning environments. The problem is that most educators have not been exposed to relevant neuroscientific knowledge and skills in their pre-service training, nor in subsequent professional development. So, educators often know very little about the very organ that they work with most: the brain. That is about to change!

Figure 1: Neuroscience and Educational Neuroscience publications

Neuroscience Source:, 2021:

Educational Neuroscience Source:, 2021 :

That is, about 6% of Neuroscience articles are in the area of Educational Neuroscience.

Education about the brain—neuroeducation—is extraordinarily powerful for our students in particular (M. White, personal communication, February 2, 2020). Once students know relevant things about neuroplasticity: how stress is the enemy of learning (Willis, 2016), how they can change their intelligence and capabilities through developing a growth mindset (Dweck, 2017), and, for example, by challenging their fixed mindset and unhelpful habits and thoughts . . . miracles can happen! And, all due to knowledge of the brain and how it learns from experiences and it being naturally quite plastic and not fixed: The brain’s very form and function changes. Indeed, the brain that you went to sleep with last night is not the same brain that you woke up with this morning!

So, how might you learn about the brain now and become a neuroplastician with expert knowledge and skills as you work, not with a scalpel nor talk-therapy, but with the brain-friendly learning experiences that you create? A couple of suggestions:

  • Do the free online short course of 20-hours professional development – The Social Brain (CQUniversity, 2020; login required)
  • Use “Dr. Google” or similar search engine, look up the free online resources of experts in the field—two examples are Judi Willis (neurologist, teacher, and neuroeducation world expert), and Professor Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa at Harvard.

Perhaps start your more formal experience in Educational Neuroscience with The Social Brain. Then consider doing full courses, like the new Master of Educational Neuroscience that is available to do 365 days a year and 24 hours a day in the online distance mode (no internal classes). Enjoy using your neuroplasticity to enhance your educational practices and expertise!


Educational Neuroscience video overview, August 2020


Professor Ken Purnell, PhD, teaches and researches in Educational Neuroscience, assessment, and classroom behaviour. While at CQU, Ken has worked since 1992 with the K-12 Authority for Queensland, Australia and has been Head of Education at the University. In 2014 Ken won the Outstanding Alumni Award from Western Michigan University. Ken focusses on translating the implications of evidence-based neuroscientific findings for education into brain-friendly classrooms and heads the Master of Educational Neuroscience at CQUniversity, Australia. He has just on 50,000 students from around the world doing one or more of the four short courses of 6 hours each on FutureLearn in Educational Neuroscience.

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