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The learning brain



What happens in the brain when someone tries to learn new information or skills or has to adapt to changing circumstances? In this course we will discuss the cognitive processes that are involved in learning inside and outside of the school environment. In addition, we will discuss the brain structures and processes that are involved. We will adapt a life-long learning perspective: learning takes place in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. This means that learning takes place in traditional school settings as well as non/traditional setting, such as in the workplace, at home, in social environments etc. An additional aim of the course are the implications of this knowledge for ways in which learning can be organized and stimulated, and the question how learning environments can effectively cater to individual differences in learners.

This course examines learning. Learning takes place when an individual processes information, integrates this information in their mental representations, and uses these representations to shape their behavior. Even though this might sound simple, it requires numerous cognitive processes. Some of these processes are automatic, others are strategic. The course discusses topics such as memory and executive functioning, intelligence and social cognition. We focus on recent insights from developmental cognitive neuroscience to explain how the developing brain enables these processes.
In recent years research in the cognitive neurosciences has resulted in fundamental insights that could be highly relevant for educational practice. The influence of knowledge about brain function, and possible difficulties in brain function on educational policy and practice will increase in the coming years.Numerous national and international reports emphasize the importance of the relation between cognitive neuroscience and learning and education. According to these reports, professionals with expertise in education and child studies could play an important role because they possess the knowledge about education as well as learning.

Topics that will be discussed in this course:
1. Basic principles of learning
2. Age related, and other individual differences in learning
3. The cognitive neuroscience of learning

Course objectives

After this course, students can:

  • define the basic principles of learning;

  • recognize developmental and individual differences in learning;

  • identify the cognitive and neurobiological aspects of learning;

  • evaluate and critique the scientific literature about the cognitive and neurobiological aspects of learning;

  • recognize and refute neuromyths in the field of educational neuroscience.


Lectures Exams

Mode of instruction

Each class consists of 45 minutes lecture, 45 minuten assignments and presentations and 45 minutes discussion/review articles.


Written exam (40 MC questions and two essay questions). A retake is only possible if the grade is lower than 5.5.


During the course Blackboard will be used.

Reading list

  • Ward, J. (2015). The Students Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Psychology Press en artikelen.

Additional literature will be made available on Blackboard two weeks before the start of the course at the latest.



Students need to register for lectures in uSis. It is not possible to take a course without a valid registration.


Students are not automatically registered for exams. They can register themselves in uSis until 10 calendar days before the exam date at the latest. Students who are not registered will not be permitted to take the exam.

Please consult the course and exam registration website for information on registration periods and further instructions.


Questions about the course can be addressed to Dr. Linda van Leijenhorst