Neuroimaging of learning and development: improving ecological validity

Nienke Mariëlla van Atteveldt, Marlieke van Kesteren, Barbara Braams, Lydia Krabbendam

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Modern neuroscience research, including neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), has provided valuable insights that advanced our understanding of brain development and learning processes significantly. However, there is a lively discussion about whether and how these insights can be meaningful to the educational practice. One of the main challenges is the low ecological validity of neuroimaging studies, making it hard to translate neuroimaging findings to real-life learning situations. Here, we describe four approaches that increase the ecological validity of neuroimaging experiments: using more naturalistic stimuli and tasks, moving the research to more naturalistic settings by using portable neuroimaging devices, combining tightly controlled lab-based neuroimaging measurements with real-life variables and follow-up field studies, and including stakeholders from the practice at all stages of the research. We illustrate these approaches with examples and explain how these directions of research optimize the benefits of neuroimaging techniques to study learning anddevelopment. This paper provides a frontline overview of methodological approaches that can be used for future neuroimaging studies to increase their ecological validity and thereby their relevance and applicability to the learning practice.  
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-203
Number of pages18
JournalFrontline Learning Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2019


N.v.A. and L.K. were supported by grants from the European Research Council (ERC, Starting grant #716736 to N.v.A. and Consolidator grant #648082 to L.K.). M.v.K. was supported by a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship of the EU Horizon2020 Framework Program (Grant #704506). B.B. was supported by a VENI grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) (NWO Veni #451-7-008).

FundersFunder number
EU Horizon2020 Framework Program
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme704506, 716736
European Research Council648082
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek451-7-008


    Dive into the research topics of 'Neuroimaging of learning and development: improving ecological validity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this