The need for a new discipline

The emergence of educational neuroscience has been born out of the need for a new discipline that makes scientific research practically applicable in an educational context. Addressing the broader field of "mind, brain and education", Kurt Fischer states, "The traditional model will not work. It is not enough for researchers to collect data in schools and make those data and the resulting research papers available to educators", as this method excludes teachers and learners from contributing to the formation of appropriate research methods and questions.

Learning in cognitive psychology and neuroscience has focused on how individual humans and other species have evolved to extract useful information from the natural and social worlds around them. By contrast, education, and especially modern formal education, focuses on descriptions and explanations of the world that learners cannot be expected to acquire by themselves. In this way, learning in the scientific sense, and learning in the educational sense can be seen as complimentary concepts. This creates a new challenge for cognitive neuroscience to adapt to the real world practical requirements of educational learning. Conversely, neuroscience creates a new challenge for education, because it provides new characterizations of the current state of the learner – including brain state, genetic state, and hormonal state - that could be relevant to learning and teaching. By providing new measures of the effects of learning and teaching, including brain structure and activity, it is possible to discriminate different types of learning method and attainment. For example, neuroscience research can already distinguish learning by rote from learning through conceptual understanding in mathematics.

The United States National Academy of Sciences published an important report, stressing that "Neuroscience has advanced to the point where it is time to think critically about the form in which research information is made available to educators so that it is interpreted appropriately for practice—identifying which research findings are ready for implementation and which are not."

In their book The Learning Brain, researchers from London’s "Centre for Educational Neuroscience", Blakemore & Frith outline the developmental neurophysiology of the human brain that has given rise to many theories regarding educational neuroscience. One of the fundamental pillars supporting the link between education and neuroscience is the ability of the brain to learn. Neuroscience is developing and increasing our understanding of early brain development, and how these brain changes might relate to learning processes.