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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.


For the timetable of this course please refer to MyTimetable

Mode of instruction

This course uses different forms of instruction, including lectures, group discussions and (group) assignments.


Written exam (multiple choice questions and essay questions).


During the course Brightspace will be used.

Reading list

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


Students must register themselves for all course components (lectures, tutorials and practicals) they wish to follow. You can register in My Studymap up to 5 days prior to the start of the course.

It is mandatory for all students to register for each exam and to confirm registration for each exam in My Studymap. This is possible up to and including 10 calendar days prior to the examination. **You cannot take an exam without a valid pre-registration and confirmation in My Studymap. **

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

Voor alle vakken uit het tweede semester van het Pre-masterprogramma moeten jullie je zelf inschrijven via uSis (DUS NIET VIA MYSTUDYMAP). Je ontvangt hierover in het najaar van 2023 een mail van het Onderwijs Servicecentrum, waarin dat wordt uitgelegd.

Het inschrijven voor alle vakken en tentamens is verplicht, dus vergeet dat niet. Zonder inschrijving kun je niet deelnemen.


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