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Using cognitive science in education: Selected reading

Written By: Cat Scutt
8 min read
A collection of articles, blogs and resources about cognitive science and its application in schools

Over the last few years, there has been an increasing interest in the potential of cognitive science and ‘the science of learning’ to inform classroom practice.  This page includes links to a range of useful articles, blogs, research reports and resources from different sources (all freely available or available through Chartered College membership) that explore ideas relating to this theme. These resources may be a potential starting point to help you reflect on this area, assess what you are already doing well and what you could consider doing differently.

The resources collated here will not provide a recipe for what you should do. Some of the articles will also present opposing viewpoints, and ones which may contradict your own viewpoint or experience. They should provoke thought, debate and discussion. Evidence-informed practice requires teachers and school leaders to make expert decisions based on their local context, professional experience and available research evidence. The views within do not necessarily represent those of the Chartered College.

Dylan Wiliam’s reminder that nothing works everywhere and everything works somewhere is key – you need to select suitable approaches for your own setting, pupils and context. It’s important to remember the role that implementation plays, too; the Education Endowment Foundation’s implementation guidance is a useful starting point for this.


Overviews of cognitive science in education

Deans for Impact’s brief guide for educators to six key ideas from cognitive science

Ambition Institute’s guide on how to teach teachers about principles from the science of learning

Rosenshine’s Principles for Instruction, 10 research-based principles to guide teaching that draw heavily on cognitive science.

A blog from Scott H Young summarising some of the key ideas introduced in Daniel Willingham’s book Why don’t students like school?

An Impact article by Paul Howard-Jones and colleagues looking at how and why we might want to use the science of learning in classroom settings.

John Dunslosky’s seminal paper on effective study strategies; another paper he wrote with colleagues covers some similar ground but is also very useful.


Learning, memory and knowledge

Efrat Furst’s blog post introducing working and long-term memory, with a range of useful illustrations

An essay by Robert Epstein on the issues with talking about the human brain like it is a computer.

A long blog post by Clare Sealy introducing some ideas about memory, including an introduction to semantic and episodic memory.

An AfT article by Daniel Willingham exploring the role of knowledge in bringing more knowledge and improving thinking.

A journal article by André Tricot and John Sweller looking at domain-specific knowledge and the challenges with teaching ‘generic skills’.

A Tes article by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and accompanying podcast talking about the adolescent brain.

A BERA blog that explores some of the potential issues with over-simplistic approaches to using cognitive science to inform practice in education.



A New Scientist article by Tom Bennett debunking some common neuromyths.

An Impact article by Christian Bokhove, looking at how neuromyths develop.

A New York Times article by Daniel Willingham explaining why we still need to memorise things in the age of Google.

A journal article Kåre Letrud and Sigbjørn Hernes looking at the origins of the ‘Learning Pyramid’ theories, which are unsubstantiated by evidence. A blog post by Blake Harvard also usefully debunks these claims.

An Impact article by Carol Lethaby and Russell Mayne debunking theories that suggest we should differentiate based on pupils’ preferred ‘learning styles’.


Cognitive load theory

A New South Wales government publication outlining the idea of cognitive load theory, and an extensive accompanying set of examples of classroom practice.

A journal article by Juhani Tuovinen and colleagues looking at approaches to measuring cognitive load.

An Impact article by Dominic Shibli and Rachel West introducing the concept of cognitive load theory and its implications for classroom practice.

A blog by Jon Hutchinson looking at cognitive load theory from a primary school perspective.

An Impact article by Andy Tharby outlining the implications of cognitive load theory for how we design and use slide shows.

A journal article by Slava Kalyuga and colleagues introducing the ‘expertise reversal effect’ and its implications for instructional approaches.


Retrieval Practice

A journal article by Henry Roediger III and Andrew Butler about the importance of retrieval practice.

An Impact article by Megan Sumeracki and Yana Weinstein outlining what research tells us about aspects of retrieval practice such as the best timing, difficulty level etc.

A guide from Steven Pan and Pooja Agarwal to the relationship between retrieval practice and transfer of learning

An Impact article consisting of four short perspectives (from Jonathan Firth, Blake Harvard, Megan Sumeracki and Adam Boxer) on using retrieval practice in different ways and in different settings.

A blog by Aidan Severs exploring the risk of retrieval practice leading to a narrowing of the curriculum. His blog looking at ways to engage in retrieval practice other than simply quizzing is also interesting.

A blog from Rebecca Foster explaining how she used self-quizzing homeworks with her English class.

A piece of research by Jeffrey Karpicke and colleagues, looking at using guidance during retrieval practice with primary-age children.

An EEF blog by Rob Coe looking at whether research on retrieval practice is actually transferring effectively to classroom practice.

A review by Bruna Fernanda Tolentino Moreira and colleagues of research on retrieval practice in classroom settings.

A CPD pack based on Chartered College Impact articles, for use when introducing the concept to colleagues.


Spacing and interleaving

A blog by Paul Kirschner and Mirjam Neelen introducing some tips around using spaced learning, linking to a range of other useful research and blogs.

A blog by Claire Hill looking at how spaced learning works in practice in her English lessons.

A research article by Nicholas Cepeda and colleagues exploring the optimal timing of study events in spacing; this blog post by Damian Benney discusses applying this in practice.

A blog by Niki Kaiser looking at how she implements spacing in the classroom, including a downloadable ‘concept tracker‘ for tracking when ideas are revisited.

A template spreadsheet from the Learning Scientists for teachers to use when planning spacing and quizzing.

A Scientific American article by Steven Pan explaining the principles of interleaving. Sarah Jones’ blog on the topic of interleaving covers this from a teacher perspective in particular.

An Impact article by Jonathan Firth introducing spacing and interleaving approaches and presenting the results of his practitioner research around these.


Dual coding and using multimedia

A short blog from Dan Williams outlining some key ideas for why using graphics can be helpful, based on his reading of Ruth Clarke and Chopete Lyons’ book.

A journal article by James Clark and Allan Paivio, introducing dual coding theory and some implications for education.

An Impact article by Richard Mayer, outlining key principles for using multimedia in teaching and learning.

A video of Oliver Caviglioli introducing the concept of dual coding as part of a FutureLearn course.

A blog by Pritesh Raichura about using dual coding principles in science teaching.

A blog from Kate Jones including an introduction to dual coding with useful links, followed by a series of classroom examples.


Knowledge Organisers

Joe Kirby’s blog post, providing an introduction to knowledge organisers and their purpose.

An Impact article by Mark Miller, introducing the purpose and pedagogy of knowledge organisers. This is accompanied by a CPD pack that can be used to introduce the idea to colleagues.

A 3-part blog series by a maths teacher looking at the potential of using knowledge organisers in Maths.

A blog from Durrington Research School looking at their use of knowledge organisers, followed up with a second blog tackling some misconceptions around them.

A guest blog for Teach Like a Champion by teacher Sadie McCleary, exploring how to make and use knowledge organisers.

A blog by Jon Hutchinson looking at how knowledge organisers might be used in primary schools; he also provides a blank template and has written another blog about curriculum development that includes explanation of their role.

A blog by Clare Sealy that looks at using knowledge organisers in primary, and in particular the idea of ‘transferability’.

A blog from Aidan Severs arguing for the inclusion of word etymology in knowledge organisers.

Other interesting cognitive science and psychology-based reading

A post from Ambition Institute looking at how habits are built (and broken); Amjad Ali’s blog reflects on the implications of this from a teacher perspective.

A journal article by Peter Gollwitzer, looking at ‘implementation intentions’; Harry Fletcher-Wood’s blog post explores the use of ‘implementation intentions’ with pupils.

A journal article by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Antonio Damasio looking at the role of emotion in learning.

A journal article by David Yeager and Gregory Walton looking at social-psychological interventions in education.

A research article by Jennifer Coffman and colleagues reporting the findings of a study looking at how teachers’ use memory-relevant language influences pupils’ memory skills.

A meta-analysis by Loren Vandenbroucke and colleagues looking at the role of teacher–student Interactions in developing children’s executive functions.

A systematic review by Emily Fyfe and colleagues exploring how and when to move from concrete to abstract materials in maths and science.


Further resources and resource collections

A video case study on MyCollege looking at how Notre Dame High School use cognitive science principles in the classroom.

Ollie Lovell’s podcast, including a number of interviews with a cognitive science theme.

An issue of the Chartered College’s journal, Impact, themed around the science of learning.

The Learning Scientists’ podcast, all themed around cognitive science in education.

The Chartered College of Teaching’s free course on FutureLearn about using technology to support evidence-based teaching, and in particular cognitive science-based approaches.

Matthew Slocombe’s selection of suggested articles includes a range of research that is less well-known by classroom practitioners.

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