Flinders joins new national science of learning centre

Flinders University will help establish a $16 million Science of Learning Research Centre to investigate the neuroscience of the human learning process.

As the only South Australian university involved in the national collaboration, spearheaded by the University of Queensland, Flinders researchers will play a key role in the Centre’s aim of identifying new teaching practices, policies and innovations based on solid scientific evidence.

Funded through the Australian Research Council’s Special Research Initiatives scheme, the Science of Learning Research Centre will undertake research to address complex issues in the learning process, including issues relating to Indigenous learners, learners in regional and remote locations, learners from diverse backgrounds as well as the role of digital technology in education.

The centre will draw on the expertise of leading education professionals and high-quality researchers from 16 organisations, including six Australian universities and the Australian Council for Educational Research, in areas ranging from cognitive development to educational technology.

Flinders University Professor Martin Westwell (pictured), who will lead Flinders’ research contribution to the centre, said the initiative posed a tremendous opportunity for research and translation of the learning process, bringing cultural, social and environmental benefits to all Australians.

“Unlike the American Science of Learning Centres which focus only on basic research, the Australian Centre will use scientific evidence to inform teachers’ practice in classrooms and ensure that the research agenda draws upon teachers’ expertise and experience,” Professor Westwell, Director of the Flinders Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century, said.

“Internationally, education is increasingly about developing the thinking skills and cognition of young people,” he said.

“Thinking flexibly and adapting the change is more important than ever.

“We can see that reflected in the demands of NAPLAN and the SACE, where the higher performing students don’t necessarily know more stuff but do think about the knowledge and know-how of the subject in different ways. The research evidence from the Centre will help teachers to navigate some of this uncharted territory.”

Professor Westwell said the centre would help build Australia’s research capacity by attracting researchers of a high international standing, as well as the most promising research students, while facilitating international collaboration through partnerships with the US and UK.

“The Science of Learning Research Centre places Australia in a quite exclusive group of countries which have similar organisations, allowing us to draw closer links with our colleagues in, for example, the UK and USA.

“Through the Centre, Flinders University will be hosting a visit from Dr Paul Howard-Jones, a leading educational neuroscience researcher from the UK, later in the year. During the visit Dr Howard-Jones will work with researchers as well as South Australian teachers.”

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