The project on “Learning Sciences and Brain Research” was launched in 1999 by the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI).
Economic and social developments in OECD countries necessitate an ever increasing effort and investment, both personal and institutional, in education in the broad sense. Not only must individuals acquire initial training as advanced as possible in order to enhance their performance and increase their chances of entering the labour market, but once they have entered the market, they must embark upon a process of lifelong learning to preserve their position in a fiercely competitive environment. The development of the “learning society” further increases the need for individual learning. Innovation represents a major challenge for educational institutions so that nearly all previous educational models need to be sooner or later more or less revised. The only element that can be considered “stable” in an environment which is in constant evolution, is the foundation for the whole learning process – the human brain. A neuroscientific approach to learning has yet to be developed and CERI embarked on this project to explore this vast unchartered territory and to see if relevant research can better guide education policy makers as to how the learning sciences and brain research can begin to find common objectives.
The first phase of the project (1999 – 2002) was to bring together an international group of researchers to review potential implications of recent research findings in brain and learning sciences for policy-makers. This phase also aimed to increase our collective understanding of the applications of emerging cognitive neuroscience to education and, conversely, support educational researchers in posing questions of educational interest to cognitive neuroscientists.
Many different countries were involved in the first phase of the project, by way of their:
- substantial support, and/or
- financial support, and/or
- hosting of one of the meetings, and/or
- representation of national experts attending the meetings.
During 2000-2001, OECD/CERI collaborated with various institutions around the world to organise three international fora. The First High Level Forum: Brain Mechanisms and Early Learning took place at the Sackler Institute, (New York, USA). The Second High Level Forum: Brain Mechanisms and Youth Learning , was hosted by the City and the University of Granada (Spain), focused on youth and classroom learning. The Third High Level Forum: Brain Mechanisms and Learning in Ageing , which took place at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, focused on lifelong learning especially for the elderly.
The results of these fora have been synthesised into an OECD publication entitled: “Understanding the Brain: Towards a New Learning Science ”.
The project reached its second phase in 2002 and will run until 2005. To launch the second phase, The Launching Meeting of Phase II of the Learning Sciences and Brain Research Project consisting of scientists and educational researchers was held on the 29-30 April 2002 at the Royal Institution in London (United Kingdom).
Since then, three networks, each composed of a dozen scientists, educational researchers and policy makers have been put in place. These groups will focus on forming innovative groups that seek synergistic points of contact between current domains of research in cognitive and brain science on the one hand, and education practice and policy on the other. Their work will enable the development of accessible theories of expertise and aid the acquisition of fundamental competences; they may also contribute to addressing recurring educational problems and difficulties.
In order to meet the challenges of the second phase, the project has undertaken a three-dimensional approach:
- firstly, it aims to be problem focused (grounded on particular educational challenges that may be considered foundational in education),
- secondly, it aims to be trans-disciplinary (involving a wide collection of researchers from different disciplines), and,
- thirdly it aims to be international (involving researchers from many different countries and cultural backgrounds).