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What is the purpose of educational neuroscience in the classroom?

Understanding the educational setting and learning, especially social-emotional learning, isn’t just a hunch – it is a science
Illustration of the brain
© CQUniversity

The purpose of educational neuroscience is to apply cognitive neuroscience findings to the educational setting.

As teachers, we understand that our students do not enter the classroom on an even playing field in terms of capabilities. Each student is born with different genes and arrives to class with various neural compositions based on prior knowledge developed from their individual perceptions of past experiences.

Louis Cozolino (2014) suggests that understanding the educational setting and learning, especially social-emotional learning, isn’t just a hunch – it is a science. He clarifies this by stating that the problem with any science is that it “can be complex, challenging to understand and difficult to apply” (Cozolino, 2014).

Applying neuroscience

We are only just starting to apply some of our knowledge of neuroscience to education. Understanding the evolution and development of the brain — where we have come from, what we are capable of, and how we learn, for example — is priceless information for educators.

In order to facilitate strategies in the classroom, neuroscience must be contextualised and integrated with what we know about social and emotional development, and made culturally relevant.

Cozolino (2014) discusses several insights into the brain in his article ‘The Social Neuroscience of Education’. Key points are paraphrased below:

  • Cozolino proposes that, ‘the brain has been shaped by evolution to adapt and re-adapt to an ever-changing world’. He explains that learning and memory are dependent upon the modifications of the brain’s chemistry and architecture in a process called ‘neural plasticity’. This process of neuroplasticity reflects the ability of neurons to change both their structure and relationships to one another in reaction to experience.
  • Secondly, as teachers we need to use our interpersonal skills, creative methods and personalities to create enriched environments using multisensory activities to stimulate neuroplasticity and brain development. Cozolino (2013) clarifies this by proposing that ‘the human brain wasn’t designed for the industrial education (students sitting still in classrooms of rows) and if we are going to move forward, we will have to admit that a one-size-fits-all model of education is doomed to fail the majority of students and teachers’.
  • Finally, for students to develop in social emotional learning and thrive in school, educators need to understand that the brain grows best in supportive relationships, low levels of stress and through the creative use of stories. Neuroscience reveals that secure relationships proved emotional regulation and low levels of arousal which maximises biochemical processes. This activation of emotional circuits promotes cognition, executive brain systems and intelligence.


Cozolino, L. (2013). The social neuroscience of education: optimizing attachment and learning in the classroom. W. W. Norton & Company.

Cozolino, L. (2014). The neuroscience of human relationships: Attachment and the developing social brain. WW Norton & Company.

© CQUniversity
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