Creating a transdisciplinary learning science was a perhaps overambitious goal of our project. We hoped that neuroscientists and educators could not only exchange understandings but also actually collaborate to create new understandings enriched by both perspectives. This kind of cooperation supports progress in both fields by enabling experts to see new aspects of problems in their field 7 and recognize external issues of relevance to their field.
The acceptance and support of our project by the education ministries as well as the interest and active participation of researchers varied greatly and in interesting ways.
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At first, it was difficult to predict what would result from our project, and if the investment including financial, organization efforts, energy, and time would be worthwhile, which led to interesting differences in the acceptance and support of the project by the education ministries.
The cultural background of the political stakeholders played an important role. It quickly became clear that Japan and the United States were leaders in taking risks of this nature, with Europe Finland, Spain, and the United Kingdom being exceptions following cautiously behind. At its inception in , the project had only five supporting countries, including Japan, the United States, Finland, Spain, and the United Kingdom, but by , 25 countries actively participated.
Some countries resisted almost until the end, primarily because they were afraid that hard science might suddenly supplant traditional social sciences as reference disciplines for education this concern was clearly voiced in countries like France and Sweden, for instance.
However, when representations are not shared, communication is difficult, as those participating in a communicative situation should express their ideas, intentions, and feelings openly and try to identify their assumptions and consider them potentially modifiable.
For intercultural communication, this is an even greater challenge than for communication in general, as the readiness to communicate first has to be established and the capacities are more complex to achieve. All communication takes place under the ideal of a possible consensus Heinze, Communication between specialized fields is important to enable knowledge transfer. However, the transfer of expertise between neuroscience and education is difficult, and three conditions are essential for optimal communication to take place: a Experts must be willing and able to share knowledge with those outside their field rather than just their peers.
In general, participants of different nationalities from the same field had fewer difficulties understanding one another than participants of the same nationality from different fields. At first, it was difficult to find participants for our project that met all three conditions—researchers who were doing good work in their field, were able to translate findings for lay people, and were committed to applying their research results to policy and practice. The reactions of the participants to these three conditions were very different.
Brain researchers generally accepted invitations to meetings, seemingly prepared to share and receive new knowledge. Accordingly, their presentations were too technical, cutting edge, and therefore mainly incomprehensible for lay people. Knowledge transfer was therefore not very successful at first.
These difficulties seemed to stem not only from being confronted with an audience of nonspecialists in an unusual situation but also from a global incomprehension of the project and its goals. As a result, neuroscientists often provided masses of information relevant only to their peers, in effect drowning findings significant for educators in a flood of technical information. Neuroscientists were often not willing to sacrifice their own professional goals to promote a more fruitful exchange with the education community.
In terms of the knowledge management framework, the issues outlined above could essentially be described as individual—structural transfer barriers: Much of the neuroscientific community was characterized by a limited capacity of perception, processing, and learning. Although these problems partially faded over time, they were never completely resolved. The issues seemed closely tied to generational influences.
Scientists younger than 30 years, who usually do not yet have a fixed research orientation and could therefore direct their work according to new opportunities, were consequently much more flexible. The same applied to those who had already reached the end of their careers and no longer needed to impress anybody. Researchers of the middle age group were already specialized in a research framework and, given the rules of the game in academia, had a stronger need to be recognized by their peers in order to advance in their careers, which narrowed their flexibility and openness to new avenues.
Neuroscientists and educators should recognize that collaboration is mutually beneficial. There is increasing consensus that even basic research should be useful for society. Some educational researchers seemed to perceive neuroscience research as a potential threat to principles about learning established by social science research, which they had built their careers on.
Furthermore, only a few education policy makers accepted invitations to our meetings, possibly because some of them were intimidated by arcane neuroscience and some of them saw a political danger related to the concerns of educational researchers. Namely, that education had thus far always used the social sciences psychology, sociology, philosophy, etc. This attitude created a collective—structural transfer barrier.
Specifically, a fear whether justified or not that established power dynamics might be endangered by this new science entering other fields disrupted the transfer of knowledge. This notion that neuroscience might invade the place of the other disciplines certainly reflected a misunderstanding of the project. The project team repeatedly stressed that neuroscience was intended to inform education, along with other disciplines. The goal was to develop a transdisciplinary field that would be a more powerful tool for addressing educational issues than any of the disciplines on their own.
Perhaps, though, even this goal was perceived as dangerous because it could lead to new insights that contradict certain policies and practices OECD, Practitioners, in contrast to the other two groups, were generally delighted by the outcomes of our project sometimes even a little too much This may be because teachers are the ones who are confronted with the problems of education systems on a daily basis and are therefore open to any recommendations that might help them cope with their daily struggles.
Overall, it quickly became obvious that there would be some resistance in the education community to using information about how the brain learns to inform education policy and practice. The reasons for this resistance are various—simple incomprehension, mental inertia, the categorical refusal to reconsider certain truths, corporate reflexes to defend acquired positions, or even staunch bureaucracy.
The existence of these neuromyths is sometimes used as ammunition against any use of neuroscience knowledge in education, which created further resistance to the project. Moreover, these neuromyths, which are incomplete, extrapolated beyond the evidence, or plain false, were entrenched in the minds of the public by the mass media, 19 which created yet another goal for the project: debunking neuromyths OECD, In addition to the neuromyth issues, a whole range of other, even more fundamental, ethical questions have arisen from the project, including the potential abuse of brain imaging, consumption by healthy individuals of substances that affect the brain, the risk of creating an excessively scientific education system, and so on.
Many of these questions cannot be left to science only. The publication Understanding the Brain: The Birth of a Learning Science OECD, explores how neuroscience can inform education policies and practices and promotes the development of a transdisciplinary learning science. It also establishes a transdisciplinary research agenda, which can support further collaboration across fields.
It is still too early to say if the results of the Learning Sciences and Brain Research project will contribute to widespread improvement in education policies and practices.
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In the case of our project, the recent blossoming of initiatives aimed at connecting neuroscience and education across Europe, Asia, and North America 23 gives us hope that, in spite of all of the obstacles the project faced, the emergence of a transdisciplinary learning science is underway.
A dialogue between the neuroscience community and the education community including students and parents is essential for continued progress.
Various initiatives are beginning to support this dialogue, and these efforts need to be continuous and permanent. Experts found this task very challenging because it is difficult to identify tacit knowledge of a field when immersed in it indeed, a fish does not know what water is.
Research schools, which are living laboratories where researchers and practitioners work side by side to educate students and carry out research, provide the type of sustainable collaboration that can support transfer of tacit knowledge via socialization. In this context, tacit knowledge is shared through ongoing dialogue and becomes tacit for others.
In this way, research schools can break down one of the key barriers to working across disciplines and are a powerful tool for supporting further transdisciplinary progress. It is obvious that brain research alone will not solve every educational problem. Education, which is an intervention discipline, is foremost interested in what is feasible or not changing the world 26 and is thus better equipped to tackle issues of what policies and practices should be implemented.
Although policy what is efficient or not derives directly from politics what is considered desirable or not and although politics, at least to some extent, directly depends on ethics what is considered good or bad , there is no such mechanical cascading between the scientific field and any of the three other fields: ethics should not be replaced by science, especially as far as politics is concerned. What is feasible and what is not is asking, after taking ethical considerations into account, what policy is—or should be—all about della Chiesa, History has shown how catastrophes follow when ethics is replaced by science, sound or not, and we certainly do not want to repeat such terrifying mistakes.
Neuroscience can merely shed new light on issues that other disciplines have explored for centuries. Neuroscience should only be recognized for what it is: valuable new knowledge. If educational arrangements were working so well that everybody was happy with them, there would be no reason to really look for new solutions. Despite the political, cultural, historical, and ethical challenges we faced, it is no longer acceptable to ignore neuroscience research in reflections on education nor to ignore the need to create transdisciplinary sciences more broadly, and we should continue to develop innovative solutions for tackling emerging challenges.
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