In the first decades of the 21st century, many actors and stakeholders have urgently argued that education needs to be transformed in order to meet the demands of rapidly changing technologies, new skill demands in the workplace, and to foster equity, social cohesion and global citizenship. Implicit in these demands and expectations is the aim to realise every individual’s potential. Twenty-first century education requires teachers, environments, technologies, educational content and pedagogical practices that can help learners attain that goal.

In order to realise this ambition, 21st-century education needs to be underpinned by the best available research evidence on human learning and how to improve it. Knowledge is one of the most important raw materials of education; yet education is not particularly good at updating its own scientific knowledge base. A lot of the knowledge at work in education practices and transmitted in teacher education and professional development activities is outdated and sometimes contradicts more recent research. Education seems to be vulnerable to myths and erroneous ideas, born out of romantic ideals, wishful thinking or love for children. Sometimes science tells us something different from what educators wish to hear.

Constantly updating its own knowledge base is one of the most needed but also most difficult tasks in moving education forward. In many countries, the mechanisms and practices used to translate and transmit scientific evidence into education policy and practice are missing. Compare this with, for example, the health sector, which has effective mechanisms for constantly updating the medical knowledge in the system and among medical professionals.

But things have started to change in recent years, most importantly in the field of scientific research itself. Human learning became the object of research in many more scientific disciplines than pedagogy or education science. Well-established disciplines, such as cognitive psychology, and social and behavioural sciences, and also neuroscience, brain research, computer science and even engineering, are amplifying efforts to better understand human learning and the conditions needed to nurture it. As an interdisciplinary effort, a new “science of learning” is in the making, with enormous potential for improving teaching and learning practices. These developments offer fascinating new perspectives, based on technological advances, that enable a re-examination of longstanding problems in learning, raise new questions, and offer new approaches to the study of learning.

To translate, transmit and inject the new “science of learning” into education will not be easy. The distance between what happens in a research lab and in a classroom is huge, and there are both institutional obstacles and barriers of mindset that need to be overcome to bridge these two worlds.

We prepared this book with that in mind. Researchers and scientists have done their best to make their research findings accessible to education policy makers and practitioners. I hope it will inspire many. This is not the end of a process though; the science of learning is only in its infancy. Thus this book is also a call for more research, and more communication and interaction between the world of science and the worlds of policy and practice.


Andreas Schleicher

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