Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts, and the Brain

Findings and challenges for educators and researchers from the 2009 Johns Hopkins University summit

Mariale Hardiman, Ed.D., Susan Magsamen, Guy McKhann, M.D., and Janet Eilber

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On May 6, 2009, the Neuro-Education Initiative of The Johns Hopkins University School of Education, with support from The Dana Foundation, hosted its inaugural national Learning, Arts, and the Brain Summit to explore the intersection of cognitive neuroscience, the arts, and learning. More than 300 educators, scientists, school administrators, and policy makers shared their perspectives on advancing the science of learning through the lens of arts training and its effects on cognition.

The emerging field of neuroeducation explores how children learn and what practices promote and sustain the learning process. Neuroeducation is an interdisciplinary field that combines neuroscience, psychology, and education to help create improved teaching methods and curricula.

Summit presentations expanded on the results of studies included in the Dana Arts and Cognition Consortium report, released in March 2008. The report, based on multiple three-year studies from seven universities, examined whether early arts training can cause changes in the brain that enhance other aspects of cognition. Consortium researchers found “tight correlations” between arts training and improvements in cognition, attention, and learning.

Through this summit, the research and education communities came together to discuss what neuroscience research has demonstrated to date concerning the effects of arts training on cognition and to explore future research priorities and opportunities. The summit’s purpose was not to debate whether children need the arts, but rather to explore how studying and practicing the arts might enhance creativity, cognition, and learning.

Three questions guided the proceedings: (1) What do we know from cognitive-neuroscience research concerning the effects of arts training on the brain that could and should be accessible to teachers? (2) What new research is relevant and possibly related to how studying an art form helps students learn better? and (3) How does the process of learning with and through the arts improve academic performance?