Skip to 0 minutes and 3 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Welcome to Tim and Paul. And we've got quite a few questions. There are some really interesting questions actually. And so we'll start with one that does come up quite often, which is about cognitive load. And Jean would like to know when children have gone from lesson to lesson to lesson all day doing something different in every lesson, do they already have cognitive overload before they even walk through the door of your room?

Skip to 0 minutes and 32 secondsTIM JAY: So I suppose my response would be I think it's important to differentiate between-- cognitive load is kind of in the moment, a relatively short term issue. It's the kind of information that's in a child's working memory at the moment. So it's important to differentiate between that short term and long term aspect. And I think what could be an issue when students come into our class at the beginning of a session and they might have come straight from another classroom or they might have come from break or lunch time is they are going to be thinking about other things. So it's not that cognitive load builds up and up and up through the day. There's a limit.

Skip to 1 minute and 20 secondsThere's only so much we can hold in working memory at any one time. But it might be that when they come in for the beginning of the lesson, they're occupied with other issues like who they've fallen out with over lunch time, or maybe even an interesting problem they've come across in a lesson just now. So I think Jane's question implies that cognitive load might build up and up and up and up through the day. And that's not a useful way to think about it.

Skip to 1 minute and 51 secondsBut I think teachers do need to be aware that children might need some activity or some routine at the beginning of a lesson to help them move from what they have been thinking about before coming into the lesson to what the teacher wants them to be thinking about now. So having those kinds of classroom routines to help children recognise that, OK, we've come into the classroom. We need to set aside whatever's happened at lunchtime or in previous lessons and focus our attention on what's going on here and what we need to learn about in this lesson. That can be really important.

Skip to 2 minutes and 27 secondsSo whether that's through classroom routines at the beginning of a lesson or some kind of starter or introduction activity to help children make that transition into focusing on what do we need to do in this lesson right now. It will help take out of working memory whatever's happened before and make space for what we need to be doing now.

Skip to 2 minutes and 55 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Thanks, Tim. We had a couple of similar questions as well from Pamela and John about does the brain process skills such as drawing in the same way? And does cognitive load theory apply to take to carrying out a skill? And so for example in creative subjects like art, music, drama is there a limit to that? And is there a limit to that creativity at any one time?

Skip to 3 minutes and 30 secondsTIM JAY: So I had some thoughts about this. I mean, I'm not so familiar with what's involved in learning art or drama. But I've got a bit of familiarity with music. And I think there's a few really good examples for music. So say when you're learning a new piece on the piano, lots of the advice is that it's really important that you practise the left and right hand separately before you try and bring them together. And that's exactly for the reason of cognitive load. If you try and work on your left and right hand together right from the beginning, then it can just be too much to take in all together.

Skip to 4 minutes and 7 secondsWhereas if you work and develop some fluency in your right hand part and then in your left hand part, then you develop some of that fluency and automaticity. That means when you bring them together, you've got more working memory capacity to deal with that. And it's similar in music. You learn your scales so that some of that information, the fluency in playing the scales, knowing where the sharps and flats are in each key, becomes automatic through practicing your scales so that when you come to play a piece some of that information that's necessary for playing a piece is fluent and an automatic. So I think, certainly, what I know of music, you are thinking about the same issues.

Skip to 4 minutes and 52 secondsAnd that it can be important when you're learning something new, a new concept or a new piece, it can be really helpful to break down that task into smaller components, develop some automaticity and fluency in those smaller components, and then bring them together. It's exactly the same as what cognitive load theory implies for other-- and I imagine you could apply exactly the same thing to art and drama. There will be smaller components.

Skip to 5 minutes and 21 secondsMaybe in drama a good example would be it's really important to develop some familiarity with performing and standing and doing something in front of an audience so that becomes familiar and so that anxiety related to that isn't occupying all your working memory capacity when you're actually trying to give a speech convincingly, I suppose.

Skip to 5 minutes and 45 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Have you got anything to add, Paul?

Skip to 5 minutes and 48 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: Yes, I think it's an interesting question. The concepts around engage, build, consolidate, what have they got to do with creativity? I think what Tim said is absolutely correct. And there's a lot of processes involved in these creative art, music, and drama, which involve rehearsal, editing, analysing. And I think in all of those areas the idea of engaging a building knowledge, using your working memory, rehearsing it, becoming automatic, those are really important things. But then there's the creative element of these subjects. And I think this comes on to what John was asking. He was asking does neuroscience say anything about maximising the brain's ability to be creative? Are there any counter-intuitive or unexpected strategies that work?

Skip to 6 minutes and 41 secondsAnd so he's actually asking about the creative aspects of these subjects. And that requires a different set of thought processes to some extent. So if creativity is a matter of moving between these analytical thought processes which can be taught quite straightforwardly where you're analysing the research or you're analysing whether your ideas are any good, moving between those and actually generating new ideas, engagement is still important. Quite often people find creative activity engaging because it inevitably involves novelty. If the things you're combining together to make new ideas are themselves not novel, the new idea will be novel because that's like a definition of what a creative outcome is. So the engagement is often quite forthcoming, if you like.

Skip to 7 minutes and 37 secondsThe building, the idea of building knowledge in your working memory networks, actually is still relevant. But instead of making contact with the most obvious prior knowledge that is relevant to this situation, it often requires you to make connections with things that are unusual, things you might not normally bring into this situation. So the definition of an original idea is usually combining two ideas that are not original but are not normally associated with each other. And so that often requires a completely different type of environment, if you like. It doesn't benefit from mild stress which learning often can. It doesn't benefit from being evaluated.

Skip to 8 minutes and 24 secondsIt benefits from a relaxed atmosphere, changes in context, things that actually disrupt and defocus you, if you like. But then having made those connections, produced those new ideas, actually you have to evaluate them again. And then you go back into your analytical thought processes. And quite often rehearsing those ideas is quite useful. We rehearse our performance musically. We rehearse our play or whatever it is we're developing, our poetry. But actually the danger is there's always that friction because if you over-learn something, you're developing more of those habitual associations that you then need to break free from when it when it comes to being creative.

Skip to 9 minutes and 11 secondsSo there is some really interesting tensions when it comes to thinking about how to foster creativity in a classroom. And I think they revolve really around understanding when it is you want your students to be very focused and analytical and evaluative and when you want those spaces where you can actually generate and make connections with unusual ideas and break out of those habitual automatic thought processes.

Skip to 9 minutes and 42 secondsThe rest of education is actually really concerned with generating. Because as Tim mentioned, automaticity is really important. You need to have those associations coming into your mind [INAUDIBLE]. But often when we're creative, those are the sorts of things that can cause you to fixate on the obvious.

Skip to 10 minutes and 0 secondsKAREN HORNBY: So we've had three questions about adult learning and professional training, professional development environments. So Karolina would like to know what's the greatest obstacle to learning in adults in terms of brain plasticity and their capabilities, for example, compared to children?

Skip to 10 minutes and 23 secondsTIM JAY: There's not an obstacle as such. I think it's more a continuum than there being an obstacle to adult learning. I think an important thing around brain plasticity is that it can require more experience or a greater amount of time practicing a routine or developing a new skill for adults to become fluent or to develop automaticity in a skill or recall of knowledge than it can for children. So it can just take more trials or more experience of carrying out the same skill or recalling the same knowledge for adults than it does children.

Skip to 11 minutes and 8 secondsAnd a counter to that is that adults, if they've decided they want to learn something, they often have great motivation to actually do that and put practise in to develop a skill. So it's not necessarily just a negative there. And one other thing for adults is it may be that they have a little bit more unlearning to do. If they've developed quite fixed misconceptions in an area, it can take a bit more work to unlearn those misconceptions, to actually develop an understanding that actually is useful for whatever they're going to be learning. So I try not to say in terms of obstacles as such.

Skip to 11 minutes and 54 secondsBut it can just take more practise for adults to develop that fluency and automaticity compared to children. Driving is an area where you can pick up bad habits. And they become very deep seated.

Skip to 12 minutes and 7 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: Absolutely.

Skip to 12 minutes and 8 secondsTIM JAY: You have to really pay attention to what you're doing to recognise those because they become such deep-seated habits that you don't even recognise you're doing them and that you're thinking certain things. So to unlearn them, you have to do quite a lot of work to actually pick out what are the problematic bits and then develop new habits. It's quite hard work.

Skip to 12 minutes and 32 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: I'm sure children learn technology more easily because of the unlearning of a new piece of technology. I read that to them, and they didn't find that was very interesting because it's kind of like everybody knows that kids learn technology quickly. But actually, why? Why is that?

Skip to 12 minutes and 50 secondsTIM JAY: I think there's a certain amount to do with inhibition as well. I think children are much more prepared to have a go and not worry about whether they're going to fail.

Skip to 12 minutes and 59 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: They notice that button, and they think what will that button do if I press it? Whereas we go, oh no, we haven't been told to do that in the instructions. [INTERPOSING VOICES]

Skip to 13 minutes and 7 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: So I was asked recently to have a look at what it is that children can do that adults can't. And it's an interesting question. And the research that I found showed that there are tasks where if adults are directed to them, they do them quite well. They can often do better than children. But they don't notice what else is going on around them. And so if you then ask them about the context of what was going on, they won't know anything about it. Whereas the children are actually quite good at coming back and telling you about the stuff that they weren't asked to notice. They weren't asked to focus on.

Skip to 13 minutes and 50 secondsAnd of course, this is because our selective attention, our ability to narrowly focus that spotlight of attention, becomes better as we become adults. And that has some generally good advantages because we can focus more on what we're supposed to be doing. But it does mean that we're locked off from the periphery, that we're not actually seeing the other stuff that's happening. So the menu of what's feeding the brain, if you like, is diminishing as we hone that selective attention.

Skip to 14 minutes and 18 secondsAnd I think that's why when you hear adults say, oh, I learned so much from that, they're often referring to experiences that they might not themselves have selected because they're in that sort of rut, if you like, of experiences that they want to focus on, that they're familiar with. And they find it more difficult to jump outside. In other words, they become a little bit less flexible. And then in some respects, children that are more flexible because they're more aware of the world that they are not necessarily being asked to by their culture, by society, by friends, or whatever, to be paying attention to.

Skip to 14 minutes and 56 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Yeah, John says, in general as educators, if you had to use one method of professional training, what would it be and why would you use it?

Skip to 15 minutes and 8 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: I'm not sure that it's really about always the method. It's the insight that counts into the implementation of that method. So I've seen teachers use methods which I would not really recommend. For example, brain gym is a perfect example. The science behind it is completely bonkers. And yet I've seen a good teacher take that and use it so insightfully in terms of stimulating the children and getting them interested and engaged in some other activity that is more valid, that it's actually been very effective. So I'm not sure it's always good to be interested in methods and techniques that have got some weight of educational evidence behind them.

Skip to 15 minutes and 56 secondsBut I think the missing link that this course has tried to focus on is understanding why something should work or sometimes not work and using that insight to help implement it and reflect on it. So there's nothing that can be guaranteed to work. So an example for me is as I've been developing this course and others like it, I've obviously been using a lot of these insights myself in my own teaching. And the things that we've been talking about in the course is the importance of mapping different representations to each other. It's a really important way of learning is mapping different representations of the same concept.

Skip to 16 minutes and 42 secondsSo I thought it would be a great idea to have my students in the lecture theatre make a paper brain so that we could put engage, build, consolidate on this paper brain. What a fantastic idea. Three dimensional, they can take it home. They can touch it. They're actually writing on it and everything. And it was an unmitigated disaster. But then I'm able to think, well, why is that? Why is that? And actually the noise level that was created by 150 students with scissors and cello-tape in a lecture theatre was so great that it was really overloading the working memory. They were very distracted.

Skip to 17 minutes and 24 secondsThey were unable to really properly focus on the other parts of the lecture that were going on at the same time were I was trying to teach them. And so there's no guarantees for any particular approach. But what the science of learning can do is to help provide insight into why something should work. And then if it doesn't work, why it doesn't work and help you adapt that and use it. Well, I'm going to be using it in a smaller group where it creates less disruption or implement another strategy entirely.

Skip to 17 minutes and 59 secondsTIM JAY: I think quite a lot of my work has been around evaluating different interventions in classrooms. And people might have heard Dylan William talking about research in classrooms. And he says nothing works for everyone, but everything works for someone. So I think that that would be the danger. And I think that's why we've tried to avoid in the course advocating for particular methods and saying that's why I quite liked to not really answer the question because I don't think there is a method that is going to work for everybody. I think Paul was absolutely right. It's up to each educator to analyse what's working for them and what does that suggest for what they could try in the future.

Skip to 18 minutes and 49 secondsKAREN HORNBY: I suppose, as well, on the course it's about enabling teachers or empowering them to justify why they're doing it the way they've chosen to do it and to think about that.

Skip to 19 minutes and 4 secondsWe've got another question from John as well. He's a trainer and assessor for engineering apprentices and incorporates different strategies to make learning more enjoyable for apprentices. And he wonders what you think about incorporating a unit on teaching presumably the science of learning in the training NVQ.

Skip to 19 minutes and 28 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: Everybody will find themselves having to teach at various points in their life. So I suppose I'm a little bit biassed, but I think everybody should do a course on the science of learning. But it's not just about teaching. I think that's the point I'd like to make. It's also about how you learn. So I think a lot of these concepts would be very useful for the students to give them insight into how they can actually operate as learners. How they can revise.

Skip to 19 minutes and 57 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Good points. Have you got anything to add, Tim?

Skip to 20 minutes and 1 secondTIM JAY: Well, I think then Paul's answer ties in to something we mentioned in the course about how it's important to use concepts and apply them in new contexts. And I think that's the reason why people quite often say the best way to learn something is to have to teach it because it forces you to think of something in a new way and from a different perspective and not just think about your own understanding of the concept. But it's also the best way to try and explain it to somebody who doesn't know it yet.

Skip to 20 minutes and 37 secondsSo even if you're not going to be a teacher, it can be useful to learn about that and have some experience just for your own understanding of the content.

Skip to 20 minutes and 46 secondsKAREN HORNBY: That's great. Thank you. Barriers to the application of learning, why is it that some students can easily apply what they've learned while others can successfully do all the exercises but not be able to apply any of the learning outside of the exercises? So really we're asking why do some students have difficulty applying their knowledge to new situations?

Skip to 21 minutes and 13 secondsTIM JAY: My first thought was about, again, something we mentioned during the course about there being quite sizable individual differences between students and their ability to activate relevant prior knowledge in a situation like this. And so I think as educators, we need to acknowledge that those individual differences exist and that some students are going to need more support in recognising what are the conceptual resources that they're going to need to actually work on this problem.

Skip to 21 minutes and 51 secondsSo some students are just going to need to have more support to think through so what do I need to solve this problem and how can I get that together and put it together to work on this. I don't know if you've got any other thoughts there Paul.

Skip to 22 minutes and 7 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: Well, I think we sort of intuitively feel, we intuitively overestimate, how easy it is to transfer knowledge. I've just got that instinct. I'm not sure I've got any evidence for that. But I just think certainly from the neuroscience we're beginning to understand or we see evidence that things are more context specific than we might imagine. So we're training working memory. And we find out that actually working memory is just improved for that particular context.

Skip to 22 minutes and 39 secondsAnd transfer requires flexibility of mindset. You have to get your head around a new context. And we know that flexible intelligence is a really important predictor of academic outcome. And there are going to be individual differences. I guess the important thing is to think about strategies that might help these learners. And one of the things is the way in which the concept is first introduced. A generally concrete demonstration so you can actually show something happening in as concrete a way as possible makes it very accessible. So everybody will be able to grab hold of that concept, hopefully, because you're showing it actually happening.

Skip to 23 minutes and 28 secondsBut although they will find it more difficult when you show something abstractly, as a representation, as a drawing, symbols, or as a mnemonic, or you put it into some sort of condensed representational form, that actually is more difficult to grasp immediately. But it's those sorts of forms, those different representations of the concept, that actually help you transfer it more easily to novel contexts. That's why the concreteness fading approach is so often recommended. You start off with something concrete everybody can understand. But it's important to move to abstract representations of that thing. So if you're a science teacher, show the demonstration, the practical experiment, but then move to the formula and explain how that works.

Skip to 24 minutes and 25 secondsAnd make sure that you support the children in linking these together because they may not naturally do that. We know that those parts of the brain that make those connections to prior knowledge are still developing.

Skip to 24 minutes and 37 secondsTIM JAY: But then you still need that extra step, don't you. Once you've done the concreteness fading, you do need experience and practise applying that abstract concept.

Skip to 24 minutes and 47 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: And then you need to apply it, yes, in novel contexts and actually rehearse that transference of it to different situations. And that's how you end up with multiple representations of the same concept. And that's what makes it useful. That's what makes it transferable and accessible.

Skip to 25 minutes and 9 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Thank you. In terms of grouping students, there are different ways of grouping students, mixed ability, for example, or based on their current understanding, based on evidence collected if there is an understanding. And Fiona says what is the research or research that has been done to investigate mixed attainment grouping?

Skip to 25 minutes and 34 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: So I think it's important, first of all, I don't think there is any neuroscience research on that. But the other thing is neuroscience can't tell you what you should do anyway. It can only give insight into the processes that underlie certain phenomena like learning in different situations.

Skip to 25 minutes and 54 secondsI think, generally, as we understand how the brain learns, we can consider that is to be aligned with Vygotsky on perspective, this idea of building and constructing knowledge which are the sorts of things we've discussed in the course. Because we're understanding that the processes by which new knowledge connects to prior knowledge, and obviously in a mixed ability group, you're going to have differences in ability. So there's the possibility of those who are more able with that concept teaching those who are less able with that concept. And also we understand that the teaching process itself, we have evidence to show that the teaching process itself can be very helpful for a learner.

Skip to 26 minutes and 38 secondsSo that's something that the person who does understand that concept will benefit from by gaining a deeper understanding of it through explaining it to their peer who's still grasping it. So I think there's a basis for understanding how mixed groups can operate quite well. But I think this is a really difficult question because actually there are many issues beyond learning effectiveness in terms of having mixed ability groups. Those include issues of social justice and developing ideas about cultural norms which are very healthy. So very quickly we get into political arguments about this. And I think it's important to understand where the neuroscience is limited in a way.

Skip to 27 minutes and 34 secondsTIM JAY: So I agree. I'm not sure what neuroscience research would look like on this kind of question. And there has been quite a lot of work done looking at different forms of grouping. If participants in the course were interested, I'd point them to the recent projects of research at UCL. If people were just to search on best practise in grouping students at UCL, it was a five-year study, I think, funded by the education endowment foundation. It only finished just last year. And they produced a huge amount of work partly reviewing and partly carrying out new research looking at the difference between different kinds of setting, streaming, and mixed ability teaching.

Skip to 28 minutes and 29 secondsI think it's quite complex because obviously there are different ways to teach children when they're set by previous achievement and different ways to teach children in mixed ability groups. But overall, I know some important results for teaching. So for example, it looks like attainment and average progress by students is better when children are set by achievement within classes than between classes. And we think that partly that's to do with motivation. So children in lower sets where they're set in between classes, it's easy for children to get demotivated if they feel like they don't-- if they're being given the message that they're not very good at a subject by being in the lower set.

Skip to 29 minutes and 19 secondsBut there are also issues that have to do with the curriculum that's available to children. So quite often, where they're setting between classes, children in lower sets don't have access to the same kind of curriculum and the same kinds of opportunities for creativity and problem solving within a subject as children in the higher sets. But again, there's more than we can really go into now. So if anyone's really interested, I would go to that set of work, best practise in grouping students.

Skip to 29 minutes and 52 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Thanks, Tim. You mentioned, there as well, Paul, that even grouping within classes where if you've got a mixed ability group, a particular child might just be more able on that topic or on that particular activity rather than overall, for example.

Skip to 30 minutes and 16 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: Yeah, I was trying to be careful there and not say the more abled child because obviously people have different strengths. So you may have somebody who understands that concept and somebody else who doesn't understand that one.

Skip to 30 minutes and 30 secondsKAREN HORNBY: So there's a lot to be said for flexibility within grouping within a class.

Skip to 30 minutes and 35 secondsTIM JAY: I think that can be a big issue for maths, which is the area I've spent most of my time researching. Because quite often teachers will gauge a student's level of ability or achievement by their skills in number, and it's easy to forget sometimes that number and working with number and arithmetic and so on is just one quite small-- well, it's one part of mathematics learning as a whole. And if you give some children that really struggle with number, it could be children who have some form of dyscalculia. Or I know children with Down syndrome really struggle with number and interpreting number symbols.

Skip to 31 minutes and 18 secondsBut that doesn't necessarily mean they'll have the same kind of difficulties doing work in geometry or even with algebra and so on. So it's quite important not to make those assumptions that if a child has a lower level of achievement in one area that that's going to be the same across the board.

Skip to 31 minutes and 37 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Thank you.

Skip to 31 minutes and 41 secondsWe've touched there a bit on student motivation, but Fiona would like to ask what motivates one student obviously doesn't necessarily motivate another. Is there any research about offering student choices in terms of motivation?

Skip to 31 minutes and 59 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: There is evidence to show that-- well, first of all, yes, it makes complete sense to offer choice because at least there is the possibility that somebody will-- I mean, people know what they find engaging, generally. It's not always true that serving learner preferences will necessarily improve learning. But I think in terms of motivation and engagement, learners are usually quite aware of what they find exciting. And therefore being given some sort of choice, if it allows them to end up with something which is more engaging, could be very helpful. So yeah, that makes-- and there's commonsense argument for that I think.

Skip to 32 minutes and 47 secondsBut also there's evidence to show that just being given a choice motivates you even if the choice isn't something which you would necessarily find-- it shouldn't really make a lot of difference. So for example, in video games if people are allowed to choose their avatar, it actually produces a greater psychophysiological response when they're playing, a much greater response. And yet the action is exactly the same. But simply being able to exercise your own agency appears to be motivating. So provision of choice in terms of engagement generally tends to be a positive.

Skip to 33 minutes and 32 secondsKAREN HORNBY: That's really interesting. What about rewards? So quite often students, if there's a reward in class, might be more keen to learn. But how do we teach them to, I suppose what Karen's asking, is to learn for learning's sake without rewards?

Skip to 33 minutes and 56 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: So Karen's asking how do you help children to be proud of learning without rewards. And I think it depends what you mean by rewards because I think in scientific terms we often can refer to praise as a reward because it's a social reward. Although, of course, you have to be careful to make sure that the praise is focused on the effort that that person has put into achieving that goal.

Skip to 34 minutes and 27 secondsSo I think overall, it's about making sure that there are rewards. But they don't have to be material ones. They don't have to be even stars. Stars aren't social rewards, but they are sort of a material symbol of that. But they can even be nonmaterial just in terms of providing encouragement and praise. That is a reward. But I think the other thing is that they can feel proud of their achievement independently of the teacher. But how does that happen? And I think that that happens because they feel that they've achieved something. But why do they value that as useful? Why do they think it's valuable?

Skip to 35 minutes and 9 secondsWell, that rests on ideas and cultural values and norms that are derived from the world around them. So there is also this sort of deeper, more invisible process [INAUDIBLE] of being in an environment where you feel those things are valued. And then just knowing that you've achieved it, even if nobody's offered you even any praise for it, actually can make you feel pretty good. And I would define that as a reward. But obviously nothing is [INAUDIBLE] to anyone.

Skip to 35 minutes and 42 secondsTIM JAY: So I think along those same lines I'd be thinking as a teacher, how can I help students to see what they can do now. Now that they've learned some new concepts or learned some new skill, what can they do now that they couldn't do before? And so it is just rewarding in itself to be able to solve a new kind of problem or to be able to engage in richer communication with peers or with adults. That is rewarding in itself. And I think that's a really important part of learning that could sometimes get left out in classrooms is helping children see so now you've learned this new thing, what can you do now that you couldn't do before.

Skip to 36 minutes and 26 secondsBecause just having that mastery over something or more power to actually make things happen in the world or to be able to take part in more interesting and rich conversations is motivating in itself. So if children can see that they're learning is contributing to that, that's kind of an idea of where we want to be in children thinking about rewards from learning, I think.

Skip to 36 minutes and 47 secondsKAREN HORNBY: And I suppose you could make that a little bit more explicit in a lesson, couldn't you? Actually give children time to think about what they can do now that they couldn't do before?

Skip to 36 minutes and 57 secondsTIM JAY: Yeah. If you give children something to do at the beginning before they've learned something and they can't do it, and then they can see very concretely that they can do something either quicker or more efficiently or do something that they just couldn't do before that they learned. That can make it quite powerful.

Skip to 37 minutes and 15 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Xiao's got an interesting question which is really about quite often what students are learning is something that might perhaps be useful later in life as opposed to immediately now. And so it might not be immediately apparent what the reward is. Have we got any thoughts about how to tackle that in the classroom?

Skip to 37 minutes and 40 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: I sort of think this relates in a way to the previous question in some respects. I mean, a lot of what we've discussed on the course has been about short term rewards and that very visceral response to win some points or to get some praise or feel good about yourself, whatever. But I think we're talking here about longer term goals. And I think there are examples of children who at the age of 9 years old that they want to be a surgeon. But generally speaking, I think those tend to be the exceptions. And so I think the focus we've had on the course, to some extent, is justified. Children are quite here and now.

Skip to 38 minutes and 24 secondsBut that said, there is this deeper sense of what is valued around you, which I think is really important.

Skip to 38 minutes and 34 secondsThat derives from the culture, from that shared set of values, understandings, and beliefs. And there's evidence to show, for example, that cultural capital in the home can contribute to school achievement irrespective of socioeconomic status, family income, and all the rest of it. And that is obviously I would say probably transmitted to children through conversations that that capital, those things like poetry, books, readings going on around them, tend to intend to initiate. But that being the case, I think it does raise some interesting questions. You could ask how many pupils see their teachers reading books, poetry, drawing, enjoying playing music. They're not necessarily always the things that we think of as being really important.

Skip to 39 minutes and 32 secondsBut I think those are the things that tend to imbue children with that deeper sense that what they're doing is valuable. And that's more of a long term, I see that as a long term motivation for the behaviour.

Skip to 39 minutes and 48 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Thank you. So it's cultural. You're saying it's more of a cultural thing.

Skip to 39 minutes and 53 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: So it's a cultural, but something that we can all do something about.

Skip to 39 minutes and 57 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Yeah.

Skip to 39 minutes and 59 secondsTIM JAY: And I suppose it's about seeing how what we're doing in schools with children is not just teaching children how to do jobs. It's trying to give children a kind of deep curiosity or interest or understanding of the world in different ways. So I can't think of a single time where I've ever actually used trigonometry, for example.

Skip to 40 minutes and 27 secondsI just can't. But I still think it was useful and valuable for me to learn that back in a year 9, 10, 11 because it helps you understand more broadly about geometrical proof and about the value of maths in general. And so that understanding of trigonometry has probably helped me understand other areas better. So I use a lot of statistics now. But still the understanding of trigonometry as being part of how maths can help us understand and do things in the world is part of that more that broader understanding. And it gives you a different perspective on what's going on around you.

Skip to 41 minutes and 5 secondsSo I think it's really important to help children see that even if things don't have direct application for you, that broader role that that information and that learning has in giving you an appreciation of what's going on around you in the world is still important.

Skip to 41 minutes and 21 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: I think it's really interesting, it's really important, to see your teachers being curious and interested and creative and doing all these things. I just think that's really, really important. It helps transmit those ideas, those feelings, and values. And of course, that in a way-- [INTERPOSING VOICES]

Skip to 41 minutes and 42 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: --with our [INAUDIBLE] ones.

Skip to 41 minutes and 48 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Up until now--

Skip to 41 minutes and 49 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: I have to say, can I just say that I have used trigonometry once in my life because somebody asked me to calculate the roof angles for a house they were building. And I spent hours on it. And I was so pleased and delighted to be able to finally use all this stuff that I'd been taught in school. And so disappointed when they didn't use it because they didn't understand it.

Skip to 42 minutes and 13 secondsKAREN HORNBY: How do we apply [INAUDIBLE] to online learning? So Elisabetta has come up with quite a few questions particularly since she's obviously just done an online course. So let's look. For example, how do the brain systems react to e-learning? Are there any systems that are boosted or not? Is working memory more or less challenged if you're working on a computer rather than in a classroom? And is the engaged stage helped or hindered by the fact that you're doing it on screen? And what about the absence of real people such as a class of your fellow learners, a class of people, and using a chat room instead? She says, and many more questions. But we'll start with those.

Skip to 43 minutes and 12 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: I think this is a really interesting question. But in a way we have to start the question around what do we know about the learning brain. Certainly in terms of cognitive neuroscience, what do we know about the learning brain that is not mediated by technology? Not much because cognitive neuroscience is all based on, where we've studied learning processes, it's been based on people learning in scanners via technology. Quite often using a computer screen, we're usually using a computer screen, and responding using buttons, joysticks, mice. So really all of what we know is about learning mediated with technology when it comes to the brain.

Skip to 44 minutes and 5 secondsWhat the really difficult thing is to try to study learning in the classroom using neuroimaging devices. We're just getting to a point where we have some portable devices that might be able to start providing some insights. There is some trial studies that have gone on in that area beginning to show some interesting results. I guess we're making the assumption that e-learning processes are very similar to those we see in the classroom because the behavioural outcomes tend to be the same. So we can see, oh, this person is learning, this person is not learning, or whatever under these different circumstances. We can see parallels to what we find in the classroom.

Skip to 44 minutes and 45 secondsSo that's what gives us the mandate, if you like, or the validity of saying these processes are relevant to how you learn in the classroom. In the future I hope that we will learn more about actually what happens when a child is sitting in a classroom in their brain. But at the moment that's the area that we could do with more research on. There is some interesting studies that can shed light on whether there's any difference between face-to-face and e-learning. One of them was looking inside the brain when people were interacting with a robot.

Skip to 45 minutes and 24 secondsAnd they found that the more that the robot looked human, the more one's theory of mind networks were engaged in the brain, those that support us thinking about another person's perspective. And that's really important for learning, the Vygotskyan interaction where you're trying to think what the other person is thinking. And so it would appear that for e-learning technology, it does make a difference whether you can see an image or something in front of you that looks like a person that you recognise as a person. But actually everything we know is about e-learning, I would say. It's the other stuff that we need to know more about.

Skip to 46 minutes and 10 secondsTIM JAY: There's probably not enough research for us to say very much. I think one thing that stands out for me with the e-learning is the difference in accessibility. So the big difference with e-learning is that there's much more opportunities for learning what you're interested in or what you need right now than there would have been without e-learning. And obviously that has a part to play in an engagement. So I've learned in the last year I've finished MOOCs on machine learning and big data that I wouldn't have done if that would have been a face-to-face course. Just because partly the right course doesn't come up locally. And partly I can do that sitting at home.

Skip to 46 minutes and 56 secondsSo I think there are some of those things around motivation. And I think maybe we could understand that better and how people are able to do more kind of just in time learning for something that they're interested in right now. Yeah, I think it's kind of early days in terms of research and how we understand any differences.

Skip to 47 minutes and 15 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Thanks, Tim. Manjusha would like to know how we can help children with learning disabilities.

Skip to 47 minutes and 23 secondsTIM JAY: I think that's a really big question obviously. And we could do multiple new MOOCs on various learning disabilities and what the research says about working with children. I think the answer I might give now is that I think understanding an individual child's strengths and difficulties and needs is really important. And there just isn't, for most children and most learning disabilities, there isn't a kind of one size fits all approach that we'd want to give. So children with dyslexia don't all have the same difficulties and needs and strengths. And children with autism don't all have the same kind of strengths and difficulties with learning.

Skip to 48 minutes and 15 secondsI think what would be important is using what we've talked about with the EBC model to work individually with children and see what are the particular areas where they need support and also recognising what are their particular strengths to build on. But I think it's a bigger conversation to have how to help children with learning difficulties.

Skip to 48 minutes and 42 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: Yeah, I think this is the second unit in this series.

Skip to 48 minutes and 51 secondsIf we can persuade someone to fund that, that would be great. No, I mean, there's so much to be said here. And what we've tried to do in this unit is identify some of those processes and systems that are going to be helpful in understanding the specific issues that you can come across with dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD.

Skip to 49 minutes and 16 secondsSo on the one hand, actually, the processes are the same processes. So what we've understood from this unit is very, very relevant and foundational to teaching and supporting children with learning disabilities. But as Tim points out, although it's the same general processes with children with learning disabilities, you're going to get a wider spectrum of differences in different areas. And so there has to be much more care and thought in developing strategies using these insights that are more individually fitted, if you like.

Skip to 50 minutes and 5 secondsBut very often the main characteristics of the interventions with these disabilities actually reflect a lot of what we understand to be about good practise generally. So in terms of dyslexia, rehearsing phonological or orthographic mapping, the mapping of sounds to letters, a greater focus on that. But then there should be a good focus already, of course, for children who have not got a statement of learning disability. Same with children with ADHD, all children benefit from using praise, prizes, privileges to encourage appropriate behaviour and an organised approach to peer tutoring. But actually, you know, those can become particularly important strategies for children with ADHD.

Skip to 51 minutes and 0 secondsSo I'm hoping that a lot of what's been learned in this course is going to be helpful for those working with children with learning disabilities. But there is much more to be said, I think.

Skip to 51 minutes and 14 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Thank you. How can we support a student who doesn't fit with the whole-class learning?

Skip to 51 minutes and 20 secondsTIM JAY: It's similar to the question above. I think there could be lots of different reasons why a student doesn't respond well with whole-class learning. And it's about understanding what are the barriers to that student that's just as fitting. And I think what would tend not to work well in that situation is just keeping doing the same thing and expecting the student themselves to then conform to what all the other students are doing. I think there needs to be a process of understanding what the issue is. But there's so many things that that could be. It could be an attention thing.

Skip to 52 minutes and 6 secondsIt could be that what the whole class is doing is either too complex or too easy for the child to feel like that they could engage with. There could be social issues there. There's so many reasons that a student might not respond well to a whole-class teaching that it's difficult to give a kind of one-size-fits-all response there. I think it's about trying to understand what it is that's preventing that child from responding positively.

Skip to 52 minutes and 38 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: I would agree. I think it's important to bear in mind that we haven't evolved to learn in classes. We haven't evolved to learn in classes. That's not what our brain is evolved to do. And so it's hardly surprising that across the whole of the human genome, we've got a lot of people in all the variation you get in you've got people who actually find that difficult because the classroom has not been perfectly designed, essentially, to cover the variation, the natural variation, that we get in people. And what do you do about that as a teacher?

Skip to 53 minutes and 21 secondsI think you have to break it down mentally and think about what aspects might not be working out so you can start with engage, build, consolidate. And think, first of all, are they actually engaged with learning? Of their own free will are they actually trying? Or are they just not interested? And if they are interested, if they are making an effort, is it then that the knowledge is just not appearing. They're not basically making the connections. They don't actually grasp. In other words, they're not building the knowledge.

Skip to 54 minutes and 2 secondsAnd then if they are engaged and they are building the knowledge, but it just never seems to be there the next lesson, then think about all those things that we know that consolidate learning. So I'm hoping that hopefully I think the framework that we've tried to promote in the course will be particularly helpful in these sorts of instances where you've got an issue as a teacher that you've really been struggling with.

Skip to 54 minutes and 32 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Thanks, Paul and Tim. And the final question which, again, is along similar lines to this individuality is from Francisco. It's about maximising potential for students with special educational needs and specifically how long to spend teaching a new topic.

Skip to 54 minutes and 58 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: In terms of pace, how much content should you cover in the lesson? So this is quite often something that we encounter when we're training teachers, actually, is this idea of pace. They get very disappointed if they haven't covered everything in the lesson. And they say, well, I didn't pace that very well as if as a teacher they just somehow didn't cover the content quickly enough. But essentially, if these are foundational concepts, there's no point in moving on if these concepts had not been grasped. So the way that we should be thinking about pace, I think, is in terms of the extent that the learner is grasping and consolidating their learning and understanding.

Skip to 55 minutes and 49 secondsAnd then we move on to some fresh content. There really is no way around that because it will be essentially meaningless and a waste of time if the next steps, the new knowledge that you'd like to move on to, is building on something which is very temporary and not really there.

Skip to 56 minutes and 12 secondsTIM JAY: I think this has been one of the good outcomes of the focus on some of the East Asian methods in teaching it for maths is the idea that mastery is an important concept in teaching and slowing down the pace of delivery of new content so that students spend longer on developing a really good understanding of a new concept before moving on. So that teaching becomes more about developing a breadth and depth of understanding of the new concept instead of delivering as many new concepts as possible within a short time. And how long to spend on a new topic is kind of a how long is a piece of string, isn't it.

Skip to 57 minutes and 0 secondsIt depends quite a lot on what that topic is and how complex a concept it involves and so on. But I think what Paul is saying is absolutely right is understanding a concept really well before moving on is a really important thing to do otherwise that learning will be lost and not valuable to support future learning.

Skip to 57 minutes and 23 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: I've noticed that Francesca does say following the EBC mode. And I think there might be a confusion there because there is no EBC mode as such. What we've tried to do is to categorise our scientific findings, or scientific findings about learning, into three categories, engage, build, consolidate, which is hopefully a helpful way of thinking about what we know about the science of learning because engage, build, consolidate are things which I think we can think about in the classroom. But there's no mode, there's no approach to teaching, that we are supporting.

Skip to 58 minutes and 12 secondsWhat we are supporting is the idea that there are scientific concepts that can help us understand why something might or might not work and help us reflect on why it did or didn't work and adapt it accordingly and appropriately. So it really is professional knowledge. It's not a recommended mode of teaching.

Skip to 58 minutes and 41 secondsKAREN HORNBY: So it's not a cycle that you would go through as a lesson plan or a through a unit.

Skip to 58 minutes and 47 secondsPAUL HOWARD-JONES: No. And engage, build, consolidate is certainly not suggesting a three-part lesson. It's not that all those processes can be happening at once. All it does is say, OK, we've got this situation. Let's say it's a particular issue a teacher is worried about. This class is not learning. Or are they engaged? Am I supporting the building of the knowledge, is the knowledge sticking, is it useful for them, is it consolidating, in other words. And then start thinking about which scientific findings may be relevant to understanding this particular situation. It's not saying you should do this. Actually, science doesn't tell us anything that we should do. it gives us an understanding and insight into how things happen.

Skip to 59 minutes and 33 secondsBut we're the ones that have to decide what we should do as teachers.

Skip to 59 minutes and 40 secondsKAREN HORNBY: Thank you. I think that's a nice place to end. So thank you Paul and Tim for the insight there.

Q&A session with course educators

The Q&A sessions on courses from the National STEM Learning Centre provide you with the opportunity to ask more about the course content and issues from your own classroom practice.

Paul and Tim recorded their answers to a selection of your questions on 10 September 2019.


  • 00.15 - Cognitive overload
  • 03.00 - Application of the course to creative subjects
  • 10.00 - Adult learning and professional training
  • 20.50 - Barriers to application of learning
  • 25.10 - Grouping students
  • 31.45 - Student motivation
  • 41.14 - Applicability of EBC to online learning
  • 47.18 - Learning disabilities and special educational needs

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This video is from the free online course:

The Science of Learning

National STEM Learning Centre