Conference Papers

Establishing Educational Success in the Shadow of the Neuroscientific Education Agenda

Our paper focuses upon the current debate around Educational Neuroscience (ENS) or Mind-Brain Education (MBE) in relation to efforts to establish a firm scientific foundation for educational efforts. By way of a conceptual argument we claim that ENS or MBE will – at most – be able to provide a particularised view upon individually instantiated, enabling neurological/cognitive structures. We maintain that ENS/MBE can thus not facilitate for an all-encompassing explanatory account of learning and that therefore a more diverse methodological approach is necessitated when trying to establish educational success.

In a first step we argue that ENS/MBE is based upon the cognitive-neuroscientific agenda as pre-dominant in scientific psychology (Schröter, 2011). Although we will not focus upon the debate around the neuronal and cognitive level of description (Rose, 2009; Silva, 2007), we will nevertheless critically point towards the inherent limitations of such an approach that finds its focus within individually realised, internal structures of mental processing.

With our next move, we introduce the concept of Bourdieu’s (1993) field to match the educational setting. This is the place where educational transfer takes place, embedded in multitude of tacit but nevertheless sense-making interaction patterns (Bourdieu, 1985). We utilise the system-theoretical approach as developed by Luhmann (1987) to conceptualise this constantly unfolding dynamic of the field to argue that this reaches beyond the focus of both, the learning and the teaching individual.

These dynamics, conceptualised by Luhman (2002) as referential and sense-providing interaction-patterns are external to the individual. We argue that these thus remain beyond the explanatory reach of ENS or MBE. They manifest themselves within an unfolding dynamic within these Bourdieusian fields and require an on-going and skilful assessment by the experienced educator. We maintain that this implies that any successful ‘reading’ of these referential relations requires an educator’s experience-based skill that manifests itself along an interpretative approach as first developed by Weber (2005).

We conclude that the argued-for necessity for the application of a skills- and experience-based, interpretative repertoire by the educator, implies that:
a) successful educational transfer appears to be much more of an art than a science.
b) But if that is so, then the purely scientific approach of MBE or ENS cannot sufficiently account for all the relevant aspects of education.
c) And that seems to yield important implications for any empirical research regarding educational practice.

Feldges, T. (2016) 'Establishing Educational Success in the Shadow of the Neuroscientific Education Agenda', paper presented to The 12th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 30 June-01 July, viewed 19 January 2020, <>