Cédric Vanhoolandt wins the Prix Philippe Maystadt

Cédric Vanhoolandt wins the Prix Philippe Maystadt

Under the principal supervision of Jim Plumat, Professor of Physics Didactics at UNamur, Cédric Vanhoolandt’s thesis, which straddles cognitive psychology and disciplinary didactics, has as its main hypothesis that inhibitory control training could be transferred to teaching disciplines in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation (science, mathematics, spelling...). Inhibitory control is a cognitive mechanism that enables us to resist automatisms in order to concentrate fully on the task in hand. So how can we train this mechanism, which is heavily involved in the learning process?

To answer this question, Cédric Vanhoolandt’s thesis, singular in its research angle, was based on a field analysis ranging from lower secondary education to the first year of higher education.

It was very important for me to be anchored in a real context with students and to work in collaboration with teachers.

Cédric Vanhoolandt, researcher at UNamur’s Institut de Recherches en Didactiques et Éducation and science teacher

The first phase of his thesis involved creating original tests in the context of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. One of the tests is derived from the "Stroop Task", in which the learner is asked to say the color of a word that is itself a color. The faster the learner answers, the greater the risk of making a mistake.

From these tests, diagnoses have emerged showing, at secondary school level, "persistent reasoning deficiencies in students, entrenched primitive conceptions and a significant link with inhibitory control in learners. And, at higher education level, even in science courses, around 3 out of 4 students appear not to have reached the stage of cognitive development at which an individual should be able to reason abstractly. And yet, this is a skill that is expected on entry to higher education", explains Cédric Vanhoolandt.

To compensate for the observed deficit, the author chose to pursue his research by developing a neurocognitive training program for high school and university students.

The results are striking. In fact, the more intensive the neurocognitive training, the higher the performance recorded, especially in teenagers. This performance transfers to a fraction comparison task. Overall, the trained pupils compared fractions better and faster.

What’s more, individuals who initially perform less well make greater progress through neurocognitive training. This observation opens the door to differentiated teaching through the creation of innovative personalized tools, offering added value for students who particularly need it.

Cédric Vanhoolandt’s thesis, entitled "Conception d’outils diagnostiques et d’un entraînement du contrôle inhibiteur d’heuristiques en sciences. Aspects didactiques et transfert dans les disciplines scientifiques chez des adolescents en situation scolaire", won over the Philippe Maystadt Prize jury. His work thus marks a potential turning point in the educational system, with the possibility of integrating pedagogical and didactic tools favoring the mobilization of inhibitory control to aim for constant progress in learners. " The Philippe Maystadt Prize is a great opportunity to publicize the work being done in educational science at UNamur ", says Cédric Vanhoolandt.

What is the Prix Philippe Maystadt?

An initiative of ARES, the Philippe Maystadt Prize rewards the best final-year, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral works by students in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation (Belgium) on the theme of tomorrow’s education. On January 19, the awards were presented in the presence of the Minister of Higher Education, Françoise Bertieaux.

The results of this thesis have now led to the development of a free digital application, "NeuroCoach". This will enable inhibitory control to be trained for educational purposes, and also integrates other tools contributing to the differentiation of learning. The Belgian association "J’apprends autrement" is already a partner in the project and is responsible for its development, while educational networks are keen to collaborate on the application.

By placing learners and teachers at the heart of his research, Cédric Vanhoolandt is certainly likely to offer promising (techno)pedagogical spin-offs for secondary and higher education in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation!