Neil Mercer

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Neil Mercer in 2017

Neil Mercer is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge.[1]

Mercer grew up in Cockermouth in Cumbria, where he went to Cockermouth Grammar School before studying psychology at the University of Manchester. He has a PhD in psycholinguistics from the University of Leicester.[2] His research explores the role of dialogue in education and the development of children's reasoning.[2]


He is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge, where he is also Director of the study Centre Oracy Cambridge and a Life Fellow of the college Hughes Hall.[2][3] Prior to moving to the University of Cambridge, he was Director of the Open University's Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technologies (CREET).[2] and a member of the Centre for Language and Communications. He was previously co-editor of the journal Learning, Culture and Social Interaction,[4] editor of the journal Learning and Instruction[5] and the International Journal of Educational Research.


Mercer has emphasised the use of language to "inter-think" and build "common knowledge" – shared understandings and perspectives to work together, particularly in classrooms.[6] From Common Knowledge[6] onwards his work has been explicitly Vygotskian in nature, fitting into a wider sociocultural and dialogic learning focus in education. (See e.g.[7]) However, in contrast to Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development, Mercer proposes we consider the 'Intermental Development Zone'[8] – the space that language creates which allows peers to interact and develop their reasoning together, in the absence of a guiding teacher. This work is cited as important in development of understanding of language for learning. [9]

Mercer's key interest is in the quality of talk and its impact on educational outcomes, including talk in the home[10] for example, arguing that "'social interaction and collaborative activity' in class can provide 'valuable opportunities' for learning"[11] and that classroom talk should be oriented around co-operation rather than competitiveness, to encourage exploratory talk rather than disputational[11] where the former focuses on explaining ideas, listening to others, and the building of mutual understanding and the latter on a lack of constructive argument which is characterised by disagreement with little explanation.[12] Research exploring this typology and its third component – cumulative talk, in which ideas are shared but not built upon or critically analysed – has found "evidence of the link between the development of children's communication skills and improvements in their critical thinking.",[13] leading to the suggestion that there should be more focus on these skills in classrooms, and commensurately teacher education programs,[14][15] including in the context of computer use.[16][17] This approach has been termed (and researched under the banner of) "Thinking Together".[18] This approach has been used internationally particularly in Mexico (see e.g.[19]) and recently Chile.[20] Mercer's research into the educationally salient components of discourse has been grounded in 'sociocultural discourse analysis' – a theory to which he has contributed.[21] Sociocultural discourse analysis focuses on what language is used to do, and in Mercer's work, how it is used to share meaning, create common knowledge,[6] and interthink.[21]


  1. ^ "The Faculty of Education: Neil Mercer". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d "Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge " Neil Mercer". Retrieved 28 April 2013.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Professor Neil Mercer (18 January 2013). "Professor Neil Mercer | The Fellowship | Hughes Hall". Archived from the original on 31 January 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  4. ^ "Learning, Culture and Social Interaction". Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  5. ^ "Learning and Instruction :Table of Contents". Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Edwards, Derek, and Neil Mercer. Common Knowledge: The Development of Understanding in the Classroom. London, UK: Routledge, 1987.
  7. ^ Daniels, Harry. Vygotsky and Research. Routledge, 2008.
  8. ^ Mercer, Neil. Words & Minds: How We Use Language to Think Together. Oxon: Routledge, 2000.
  9. ^ Littleton, Karen, and Christine Howe. Educational Dialogues: Understanding and Promoting Productive Interaction. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2010.
  10. ^ Garner, Richard (14 December 2007). "The key to your child doing well at school? Conversation in the home – Education News – Education". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  11. ^ a b "Study calls for more play and talk | UK | News | Daily Express". Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  12. ^ Mercer, Neil, and Karen Littleton. Dialogue and the Development of Children's Thinking: A Sociocultural Approach. New edition. Routledge, 2007
  13. ^ "Talking is good for the brain;Briefing;Research focus – magazine article". TES. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  14. ^ "Teachers branded 'useless' at discussion – News". TES. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  15. ^ "My 'useless' attack was more a call to arms".\accessdate=2015-02-27.
  16. ^ "Talking about computers;News – Article". TES. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
  17. ^ Phil Revell. "Young citizens | Education |". Guardian. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
  18. ^ "Thinking Together, University of Cambridge". Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  19. ^ Rojas-Drummond, Sylvia, and Neil Mercer. "Scaffolding the Development of Effective Collaboration and Learning." International Journal of Educational Research 39, no. 1–2 (2003): 99–111. doi:10.1016/S0883-0355(03)00075-2.
  20. ^ "El Mercurio". 8 April 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  21. ^ a b Mercer, Neil, and Karen Littleton. Dialogue and the Development of Children's Thinking: A Sociocultural Approach. New edition. Routledge, 2007.

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