Having an understanding of research and evidence is essential for effective learning design. Cognitive science (often called brain science) is an exciting field of study that covers many disciplines. More and more L&D professionals are using this scientific-based research to inform their thinking but it can be hard to stay on top of new theories.
We’ve curated a list of ten ‘brain science experts’ for learning, including neuroscientists, psychologists and learning leaders who reference research-backed techniques. Whether you’re starting out with brain science or updating your current list of ‘go-to’ gurus, this list has something for everyone.
Dr Itiel Dror
Senior Cognitive Neuroscience Researcher at University College London, Dr Itiel Dror’s research has featured in The Economist and the journal, Nature.
He’s also presented at major learning events, offering an insight into the practical applications of cognitive neuroscience research.
- Follow for: Practical applications of cognitive theories for L&D.
- Read: Training Induces Cognitive Bias
- Watch: Itiel Dror - Learning and The Mind : Learning Technologies 2013
20 years in L&D gives Nigel Paine the experience to apply the lessons of neuroscience to learning and development in a practical way.
His 2014 book, The Learning Challenge includes a section on neuroscience and learning which addresses many recent studies and how they relate to L&D.
- Follow for: An L&D perspective on cognitive neuroscience.
- Read: The Learning Challenge
- Watch: Nigel Paine at eLearnz 2015
- Engage: @ebase
Professor Uta Frith
You may recognise Professor Uta Frith from BBC Horizon shows about autism and OCD. She also writes about general research into neuroscience in education.
- Follow for: Insights from a pioneering researcher into the way the brain works.
- Read: Implications of Recent Developments in Neuroscience for Research on Teaching and Learning
- Watch: Understanding unconscious bias
- Engage: @utafrith
K. Anders Ericsson
One of the foremost researchers on expertise, K. Anders Ericsson is Professor of Psychology at Florida State University.
For over 20 years, he’s been publishing on memory and skills learning, and his research has inspired bestsellers like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.
He’s recently released his own book which includes explanations of the research and tips on how to stand out at work.
- Follow for: Diving deeper into expertise and performance.
- Read: Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
- Listen: Freakonomics podcast: How to Become Great at Just About Anything
A bestselling author and brain scientist who explains why “we don’t know how the brain works”.
He has a great ability to cut through myths and present the real, peer-reviewed, research that could make a difference to how you approach learning.
- Follow for: A broad overview of brain science, backed up with research.
- Read: Brain rules
- Watch: How does the brain work?
- Engage: @BrainRulesBooks
Author of the must-read for book Design For How People Learn, Julie Dirksen often references brain science in her writing and speaking.
If you’re a learning designer who wants tips on incorporating learning research into your courses, this is a great place to start.
- Follow for: Accessible tips for learning designers based on scientific research into learning.
- Read: Design for how people learn – second edition
- Watch: Julie Dirksen: Designing for how people learn
- Engage: @usablelearning
Sometimes we want someone to take scientific research and wrap it in an accessible package. That’s what Daniel Pink’s book Drive did for research on motivation in the workplace.
Daniel Pink keeps up with social media and regularly makes new resources available on his website.
Even if you’ve already read the book, be sure to check out his latest content too.
- Follow for: Popular books based on relevant research.
- Read: Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
- Watch: RSA ANIMATE: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us
- Engage: @DanielPink
Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, Daniel Willingham has written several books that L&D will find inspirational.
Daniel’s books are mostly education- based, highlighting how teachers and parents can improve children’s learning performance. L&D teams who deal with adult learners can also learn a lot from his work.
- Follow for: Readable books which highlight relevant brain science.
- Read: When educational neuroscience works! The case of reading disability
- Watch: Is Teaching an Art or a Science?
- Engage: @DTWillingham
Things like creativity, flexibility and thinking ‘outside the box’ are Adele Diamond’s speciality.
Much of her work is focused on learning in children but there are many aspects that can be applied to elearning at work.
- Follow for: A different perspective on how children and adults can improve the building blocks of learning and development.
- Read: Conclusions about interventions, programs, and approaches for improving executive functions that appear justified and those that, despite much hype, do not
- Watch: TEDx - Turning some ideas on their head
- Engage: @DrAdeleDiamond
When not lecturing in psychology and cognitive science at the University of Sheffield, Tom Stafford is a contributing author on the popular Mindhacks blog. His writing also appears on the BBC website and in The Guardian.
He has a very accessible writing style and often covers areas which will be useful for L&D teams who want to apply neuroscience.
- Follow for: An accessible overview of brain science with focus on learning and memory.
- Read: The science of learning: five classic studies
- Listen: Why how you practice affects how good you'll get
- Engage: @tomstafford
We’d love to know if you find this list useful and who you turn to for quality information and expertise on brain science topics.