Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second[Paul Howard-Jones] The brain and its potential for learning is amazing, and we so often underestimate what our brains can achieve. For example, this is the brain of a seven-year-old girl, who at the age of three, underwent surgery to remove half of her cortex. This was to treat a condition of severe epilepsy that was already delaying her language skills. Incredibly, with only half of her cortex to learn with, at seven years old she's already bilingual in Turkish and Dutch. And this is not the only such case. Clearly, we shouldn't see the brain as a limitation on our learning. And our new understanding of how the brain works presents a great opportunity for optimizing how we teach and learn.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 secondsWelcome to the science of learning. [Tim Jay] In this course, you'll draw upon educational neuroscience and psychology, discover how to interpret the research, and be better informed about how your students learn. You'll be supported through discussion with other teachers, you'll reflect on your own classroom practice, and explore how the science of learning applies to your teaching context. By the end of this course, we hope that you'll be better able to justify your teaching choices, and to develop your approach to engaging students with their learning. [Paul Howard-Jones] This week, we're going to look at the structure of the brain and start to explore what goes on inside your student's heads during learning. [Tim Jay] Lets begin by asking what is learning?

Skip to 1 minute and 39 secondsShare your definition and a little bit about yourself in the comments below. We're looking forward to seeing your contributions.

What is learning?

What is learning? How can teachers support all students to be better learners? How can an understanding of the science of learning help you develop your classroom practice?

Our scientific understanding of learning has now advanced far enough to offer answers to these and other questions that have practical implications for education.

This course is designed for teachers and those involved in the education of young people, to help you consider what is happening in your classroom and to make better informed decisions. By the end of the course, you’ll be thinking about how you can improve your teaching and your students learning, drawing upon the latest ideas and research in educational neuroscience and psychology. If you are not a teacher or involved in education, we hope you will find the course interesting and it may even change the way you think about your own learning.

This week we start by looking at neuroscience myths and the structure of the brain. In weeks 2, 3 and 4 we look at the engage, build, consolidate model of learning, before finally considering how to take the research forward in week 5.

Our first discussion is at the bottom of this step: what is learning?

Course support

This course has been co-authored by Professor Paul Howard-Jones (University of Bristol) and Professor Tim Jay (Sheffield Hallam University), commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, and Karen Hornby and Rachel Jackson from the National STEM Learning Centre. Your course mentor is Konstantina Ioannou from the University of Bristol.

This course is unique in the bringing together of leading educational neuroscience and psychology, with expertise in teacher professional development in order to best support your understanding and application of the science of learning.

Our course team provided support in discussions between 14 May 2018 – 29 June 2018. You have joined this course during our period of extended availability, which is a perfect opportunity for you to take the course at your own pace and become familiar with the ideas and practices we introduce. You will still be able to participate in this course independently without our support. We encourage you to:

  • Take time to complete the tasks and contribute your comments to record your thinking.
  • Read contributions from other learners, our mentors and the Q&A recording.
  • Complete the weekly reflection grids and other reflective activities in this course.
  • Discuss the course content with your colleagues.
  • Register for the next run of this course which starts in September.

Q&A recording available

On 18 June we recorded a question and answer session with Paul and Tim. Watch the video in step 5.15 to discover the ideas that stood out to course participants and some questions for you to think about as you progress through this course.


If you’re new to online learning, or new to FutureLearn, you may find the How it works guide helpful. The Crowdsourced Guide to Learning and Six tips and tools for social learning on FutureLearn may also be of interest.

Tasks and discussions

As you progress through the course you will be asked to undertake several tasks each week. You will have the opportunity to:

  • Explore ideas about the science of learning, drawing upon the research and insights from Paul and Tim.
  • Try out new approaches with your students, reflecting upon and evaluating the learning in your classroom.
  • Discuss and justify teaching and learning approaches with colleagues in your workplace and other learners on this course.
  • Share ideas for teaching practice with other teachers.

Tasks are clearly indicated and are highlighted with a vertical line in the left-margin - like the one against this paragraph. The first tasks of this course are at the bottom of this page.

Learning together

This course is designed so you learn with your fellow participants, particularly via the discussions. By writing comments you take the time to think and reflect on your understanding. Share your thoughts and questions about the course and your experiences of learning and teaching. If you need help, post a question as a comment in the relevant course step. If you can help a fellow learner, don’t be afraid to reply and make a suggestion.

Technical support

If you need any technical support use the Support button at the bottom right of your screen to report a problem or email If you wish to get in touch with the National STEM Learning Centre about this course please contact


How would you define learning? In the comments below post a little about you and your teaching context. Then provide your answer to ‘What is learning?’ Don’t spend too long thinking about it. Just take two minutes to share your thoughts. Take look at other learners’ ideas. How do they differ from yours?


When you complete a step on the course, click Mark as complete at the bottom right. This helps you keep track of your progress. Mark over 90% of the course steps complete and you’ll be eligible for a Certificate of Achievement when you Upgrade.

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The Science of Learning

National STEM Learning Centre