Editorial. Educational neuroscience: An opened challenge

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Chiara Fante
Rosalba Morese
Dario La Guardia


In the last few years, neuroscience research has started having an impact on education, by expanding the theories of learning with interesting implications also from an operational and practical point of view. Already in 2017, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggested technology and neuroscience are two key areas of development for education, as the consideration of the learners’ brain-body functioning can support the development of better teaching methodologies and technology-enhanced learning practices; however, the integration of neuroscientific research findings into educational theory and practice, avoiding direct and simplistic applications, is still an open issue.

In recent decades, a debate in the research community on this subject has been fostered by the contribution of John Bruer, where he stated that “neuroscience has little to offer teachers in terms of information about classroom practice” (1997, p. 4) and that cognitive psychology is the only viable bridge to link knowledge about brain functioning and educational theory. His point of view represents a critical response to the rapid proliferation during that time of misconceptions created by misreading or simplifying scientifically established data to justify the use of brain research in educational practice. Subsequently, several scientists have focused on clarifying how knowledge of brain structure and functioning can have a positive impact on the school system and educational field, arguing that Educational Neuroscience is not only a way to improve teaching but should aim to explain how students learn and how learning processes change our brain (Howard-Jones et al., 2016), and that different bridges need to be built to characterize this field of research “with multiple methodologies and levels of analysis in multiple contexts” (Ansari & Coch, 2006, p. 146). However, within this debate, it is also argued that the gap between neuroscience and education cannot be solved by supporting the interaction between neuroscientists and teachers or by building a “bridge” between different fields, but rather by the development of evidence-based education (Della Sala & Anderson, 2012); moreover, evidence that the brain changes in response to teaching may have no relevance to teachers, since the only relevant question is whether students learn and how learning is reflected in their behaviors (Bowers, 2016).

To date, these different theoretical viewpoints promote ongoing critical discussion among educational researchers and stakeholders.

An interesting recent review has attempted to better contextualize the contemporary aims of Educational Neuroscience using a thematic analysis of all the definitions and mission statements reported in the academic literature over the past three decades, identifying three key pillars: applying neuroscience knowledge to the classroom and to educational and instructional innovation; providing a strong and necessary interdisciplinary collaboration; and translating languages and methods historically belonging to different contexts and ensuring mutual interaction (Feiler & Stabio, 2018). Based on this evidence, the authors claim that Educational Neuroscience should be considered an independent field, covering the social and applied sciences and aiming to improve educational practices in real-world contexts: the intersection of knowledge from different research areas (such as cognitive and social neuroscience, psychology, etc.) and the investigation of how this knowledge can be applied to educational contexts may offer interesting new perspectives. The second feature that seems to strongly characterize Educational Neuroscience is the close collaboration between different professionals; however, despite international examples of interdisciplinary teams, there still persist barriers to the identifying of shared goals, probably related to the challenges of creating a common language among disciplinary fields and bringing demands arising from real learning settings into research laboratories (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2019).

In light of this brief introduction, exploring how neuroscience findings can potentially be reflected in the design and implementation of effective pedagogical methodologies and innovative educational technologies remains a significant area for future investigation and reflection. In addition, the study of how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can be enriched by evidence from science on the functioning of the brain and the human mind seems to be a significant research target. The present issue of Italian Journal of Educational Technology is evidence of current research efforts to explore the role of education and technology in supporting the “learning brain” and promoting innovative approaches to teaching and learning based on neuroscientific knowledge. The variety of approaches, methods and goals of educational neuroscience is evidenced by existing research projects and academic studies and is clearly represented in the following contributions. [...]

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