Since 2010, Michael Thomas has been the Director of the University of London, Centre for Educational Neuroscience, a cross-institutional research centre, which aims to advance translational research between neuroscience and education, as well as to develop practical applications in education. In 2003, Thomas established the Developmental Neurocognition Laboratory within Birkbeck’s world-leading Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development. The focus of his laboratory is to use multi-disciplinary methods to understand the brain and cognitive bases of cognitive variability, including developmental disorders and individual differences. Within educational neuroscience, his work includes understanding the role of inhibitory control in children’s science and mathematics learning; investigating the influence of cell phone use on adolescent brain development; linking findings on sensitive periods in brain development to their educational implications; and building links between genetics, the environment and education in children’s developmental outcomes. In 2006, his research lab was the co-recipient of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education for the project “Neuropsychological work with the very young: understanding brain function and cognitive development”. Thomas is a Chartered Psychologist, Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science.
Educational neuroscience – using insights into brain function to shape educational practices
Educational neuroscience is an emerging inter-disciplinary research field. Its aim is the translation of recent neuroscientific findings on the mechanisms of learning in the brain to implications for educational practice. Educators are enthusiastic about embracing neuroscience, but the enthusiasm has sometimes led to practices guided by ‘neuro-myths’ rather than scientific evidence. This speech will address the potential of neuroscience to contribute to transformation in education, as well as the importance of supporting this translation through a robust dialogue between scientists, educators, and policymakers. This will be illustrated with two examples: (1) a current project investigating how enhancing executive function skills can boost science and mathematics learning in children aged 8 to 10 years through the use of adaptive technologies; and (2) how differences in educational achievement linked with socio-economic status may potentially be reduced via an understanding of the way this environmental factor influences children’s brain development.