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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.


It is mandatory to register for each course via uSis. This applies to both the lectures and the working groups, even if they take place online. Without a valid registration in uSis you will not be able to participate in the course and you will not have access to the Brightspace module of the course.

In addition, it is also mandatory to register separately in uSis for each exam (i.e. both the first exam opportunity and, if necessary, the resit) in uSis. This also applies to partial examinations in a course. This is possible up to 10 calendar days prior to the exam. You cannot take the exam without a valid registration in uSis.

NB If the exam concerns a paper or a practical assignment, you do not need to register in uSis.

Carefully read all information about the procedures and deadlines for registering for courses and exams.


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