Recent empirical studies examining how human brain functioning influences learning, cognition, and memory have attracted considerable attention from researchers, practitioners, and policymakers (Byrnes, 2001). Many educators claim that these neuroscientific findings support educational theories or improve teaching and learning practices based on advances in brain imaging technologies allowing researchers to observe what is occurring in the brain when learners engage in learning or perform tasks (Caine & Caine, 1995; Merriam & Caffarella, 1999). Thus, brain-based learning (BBL) has aroused considerable scholarly interest along with a perception that the integration of neuroscience and education will help construct new ways of teaching and instructional strategies (Jensen, 2008; Lavis et al., 2016).
The research perspective from neuroscience has provided a wealth of new information and has potential implications for theory development and practice of both adult continuing education (ACE) and human resource development (HRD). For example, business professionals have strategically adopted neuroscientific approaches pursuing organizational effectiveness to saliently maintain and develop learners in the workforce (Lim et al., 2019). The neurological perspective has helped expand knowledge about individual-level employee behavior through scientific investigations on neural processes of the human brain. At the organizational level, neuroscientific findings allow human resource practitioners to cultivate a desirable organizational culture and establish effective policies that influence employees’ motivation and work satisfaction in their work (Zhe & Yazdanifard, 2015).
Despite the growing applications of BBL, there are substantial gaps between brain science and education (Bruer, 1997). Nouri (2016) recommended an interdisciplinary approach to bridge the gap between neuroscience and education, establish a common language and conceptual vocabulary, and identify philosophical and theoretical models. Hence, incorporating an increased body of BBL research will help researchers investigate diverse strategies to forge the conceptual framework for adult learners (Ross-Gordon et al., 2017) and the human resource management (HRM) of employees (Williams, 2001).
The purpose of this study is to reveal how BBL research addressing adult learners’ education and training has contributed to the overall knowledge base linking neuroscience and educational practices. A comprehensive review of previous BBL studies may extend our understanding of educational phenomenon in adult education and organizational settings, through the lens of neuroscience. We extracted key research themes and methodological choices from BBL studies using content analysis. In addition, we explored the relationships and proximity among key concepts of BBL research by utilizing keyword network analysis. The overarching research questions are: (1) What are the key research themes and methodological choices of BBL studies across disciplines? and (2) What are the core keywords and their relationships in BBL studies across and over diverse disciplines?
In this study, content analysis and keywords network analysis were employed to explore research themes and trends of BBL in the fields of ACE and HRD. Using content analysis, we extracted key research themes and methodological choices from the body of BBL studies. In addition, we explored the relationships and proximity among key concepts of BBL research using keywords network analysis. For data analysis, we reviewed the current literature on BBL addressing both ACE and HRD topics from 1985 to 2019. For content analysis, we analyzed 165 peer-reviewed journal articles. For keywords network analysis, the final 87 nodes were identified from 316 keywords extracted from the articles and were analyzed using Netminer 4.0. The process for data analyses is illustrated in Appendix 1.
As a result of the thematic analysis (see Appendix 2), four following themes were identified: (a) basic research on learning, cognition, and the brain, (b) research on understanding learner/learning processes, (c) research on neuroscientific interpretation and educational implications, and (d) research on brain-based instructional methods. An important topic that revealed is how to address misconceptions about the neuroscience of learning. Recent studies dealing with neuromyths have stressed the importance of an accurate understanding of learning-related changes in the brain structure, as it can promote effective BBL practices.
As shown in Appendix 3, the frequency of the research methodology uses of selected BBL literature shows that most studies utilized a literature review method (67.3%). This implies that experimental or quantitative research has yet to be fully utilized in the ACE and HRD fields. It could also be interpreted that integrative literature review research has overarching benefits in offering new insights and in extending knowledge for educators, practitioners, and policymakers. Interestingly, some studies have attempted to use descriptive analysis on BBL and integrate evidence from neurocognitive research with philosophical and theoretical strands of adult learning.
Based on the network attributes of influential keywords (see Appendix 4 and 5), four clusters were identified as follows: (a) bridging neuroscience and education, (b) emerging interest in BBL at the organizational level, (c) theory building for brain-based educational practices, and (d) individual-level adult, learning-focused BBL studies. The core network map displays that scholarly approaches addressing individual-level adult learning (cluster 4) play a central role in expanding the scope of BBL research, including studies on bridging two fields with a broad viewpoint (cluster 1), identifying emerging interests in BBL at the organizational level (cluster 2), and building brain-based theories for educational practice (cluster 3).
We expect that our findings will serve as new avenues to help researchers delve deeper into BBL approaches to improving ACE and HRD practices. BBL research has evolved with an extensive range of research topics. Given that there have been increasing attempts to apply BBL to adult learning or organizational contexts, future research should identify what conceptual underpinnings specifically connect neuroscience, ACE, and HRD. Our study also observed that current neuroscience studies lack empirical approaches to identify the context-bound findings of BBL. In this sense, a more practical line of research would help reveal how neuroscience findings can explain learning performance of adulthood and organizational concerns.
Keywords: brain-based learning, adult continuing education, human resource development