Education is understood here to mean learning that is deliberate, intentional,
purposeful and organized. Formal and non-formal educational opportunities suppose
a certain degree of institutionalization. A great deal of learning, however, is much less
institutionalized, if at all, even when it is intentional and deliberate. Such informal
education, less organized and structured than either formal or non-formal education,
may include learning activities that occur in the work place (for instance, internships),
in the local community and in daily life, on a self-directed,
family-directed, or socially-directed basis.
Advances in the neurosciences
Recent developments in the neurosciences are increasingly attracting the interest
of the education community seeking to better understand the interactions between
biological processes and human learning. While it may still be premature for such
developments to inform education policy, their potential to improve teaching and
learning practices shows great promise. For example, the latest insights into how
the brain develops and operates at different stages in life are contributing to our
understanding of how and when we learn.
Some of the most significant insights concern the ‘sensitive periods’ of learning
activities, indicating language acquisition is at its peak at an early age. This underlines
the importance of early childhood education and the potential for multiple language
learning in the early years. Other findings point to the ‘plasticity’ of the brain and
its capacity to change in response to environmental demands throughout life.
This supports the idea of lifelong learning and the provision of appropriate learning
opportunities for all regardless of age.
In addition, we must acknowledge the impact of environmental factors such as
nutrition, sleep, sport and recreation on optimal brain functioning. Equally important,
we must acknowledge the need for holistic approaches that recognize the close
interdependence of physical and intellectual well-being, as well as the interplay of the
emotional and cognitive, analytical and creative brain. The new research directions in
neurosciences will add to our understanding of the nature-nurture relationship, helping
us thereby to fine-tune our educational initiatives.