Science of Learning Programme
In this commentary, Dr Poon Chew Leng, Divisional Director of the Research and Management Information Division at MOE, sheds light on what the new Science of Learning (SoL) research programme could do for Singapore.
Research to advance human potential is a new addition under the RIE2025 HHP domain.
The Human Potential (HP) research programme will take a life-course approach to seize new opportunities to enhance human potential, while helping to address some of the grand challenges of a rapidly ageing population in Singapore, coupled with low birth rates.
Hence, the three strategic focus areas under HP are a) prenatal and early childhood physical and emotional development, b) science of learning, and c) healthy and meaningful longevity.
Why the Science of Learning?
Education research has traditionally focussed on the social sciences – on how students interact with materials, the environment, significant adults and peers – to learn and grow. The emerging fields of neuroscience, cognitive science and augmented intelligence open up opportunities to develop both a deeper and more holistic understanding of the principles, processes and mechanisms of human learning.
SoL was adopted as a research paradigm as its multidisciplinary approach enables us to synthesise research from the health and biomedical sciences with insights from the social sciences to enhance human function, well-being and performance for young children, adolescents and adults.
What is Science of Learning?
The field of SoL investigates the biological basis of how we learn. Research funded by the SoL programme will include, but is not limited, to the fields of:
- Neuroscience: understanding how the brain works at the cellular and molecular levels during learning and at different stages of our lives,
- Cognitive science: understanding cognitive mechanisms at the psychological and behavioral levels in the context of learning; and
- Augmentation of intelligence: exploring the use of technology to enhance human cognitive capabilities and/or accelerate learning.
Taking reference from Singapore’s contexts, the SoL programme will give priority to the key areas of the science of a) literacy and b) numeracy development; the science of c) social and emotional learning, d) cognitive abilities and functions; and e) adult brain plasticity and development, among others.
The goal of the SoL programme extends beyond building a robust SoL foundation through groundbreaking research.
The ambition of the SoL programme is to also translate research findings into interventions and implement them to generate positive impact on the ground. This is reflected in our plan to concurrently fund both use-inspired basic and applied SoL research, which would increase the SoL knowledge base, while supporting the translation of existing mature research findings into effective learning and skills development interventions.
The impact we hope to achieve includes improving teaching and learning processes with informed pedagogy and andragogy, and scaling relevant early diagnosis and interventions for exceptional learners (from learners with special needs to the high ability learners) as well as supporting our mature workers for a start.
Additionally, this programme seeks to create a vibrant multi-disciplinary research community to build capabilities in the SoL eco-system. This would create a strong nexus of researchers, policy-makers and practitioners to deepen our understanding of how learners learn, and generate positive impact in schools, workplaces and the wider community.
RIE2025 is the start of a long journey to advance human potential. We hope to see meaningful and effective interventions and innovations informed by SoL in the next 5-10 years that will enhance the development and well-being of every Singaporean and help them maximise their potential.