In partnership with Nature Publishing Group, the Queensland Brain Institute is launching an open access journal dedicated to the science of learning – npj Science of Learning. We want to create a forum through which neuroscientists, psychologists and educators interact to produce a deeper understanding of how we learn. Just as important as this interdisciplinary approach is the open access model we are adopting. Education affects us all, and we want the findings, discussions and debates within the journal to be accessible to everybody, academic or not.
Education and the neuroscience of learning may seem like they dovetail perfectly. After all, learning takes place in the brain and is the foundation of education. As we understand more about how the brain learns, surely this knowledge can inform educational practice? In theory yes, but there is a large conceptual gap between knowing the neural processes that underlie learning and using this to benefit classroom practices. This is where cognitive psychology comes in, as an essential stepping stone between the neuroscience of learning and practical implementation. Ultimately, we think that it is this collaborative approach from researchers in different disciplines—neuroscience, cognitive psychology and education—that will improve educational practice and long-term educational outcomes.
We also think that open access is the right move for academic publishing in general, and even more so for npj Science of Learning. Although the prohibitively high costs of academic journal subscriptions have prevented even the most exclusive, well-funded research institutions from maintaining comprehensively stocked libraries, the impact on middle-tier or lower-tier institutions—particularly from developing countries—is much greater. This unbalanced impact on socioeconomically underdeveloped countries is especially relevant in the field of education.
Education is associated with enhanced health and wellbeing and a more productive economy, and it is exactly these factors that are high priorities for disadvantaged countries. Yet if a paywall prevents people from poorer countries from having access to the cutting edge discourse on learning and education, they cannot learn from or contribute to the debate. It just doesn’t make sense for the most impacted people to be sidelined from the discussion, and we’re happy that by making our content open access, everybody can contribute and everybody can benefit.
Another reason we think that the open access format is ideal for a journal on the science of learning is that the interested parties are not just academics. Teachers and policymakers are two notable examples. Their ideas and opinions currently drive education practice and assessment, and we feel that this thinking should be shaped by the research – it is no use finding ways to improve classroom learning if those practices cannot or will not be implemented. Traditionally, however, these groups have not had direct and easy access to academic research. Open access overcomes this issue and should allow informed debate of the issues at hand by all parties. Parents are another group who are heavily invested in education, yet they too are currently removed from the policies and research that will shape the futures of their children and grandchildren.
This wide array of interested parties does pose a problem of sorts, as does the interdisciplinary nature of the journal: how can we ensure that everybody can understand the specialised research findings that are at the heart of the journal? To address this concern, npj Science of Learning will further break down the barriers to collaborative advance by providing jargon-free summaries of all the research we publish. We want all parties to be able to contribute to the discussion on learning and education, and that requires making the research accessible not just financially, but also intellectually.
We are looking forward immensely to seeing how the collaborative framework enabled by our journal will influence education through a new science of learning. By ensuring that research, discussion and policy perspectives are accessible to all, we think that open access is the ideal platform for our journal dedicated to improving learning and education.
Professor Pankaj Sah is renowned for his work in understanding the physiology of excitatory synapses and synaptic plasticity in the amygdala, an area of the brain involved in emotional processing. He is currently Deputy Director (Research) and Director of the Science of Learning Research Centre at The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI). Previously he was group leader at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University and moved to The University of Queensland as a founding member of QBI in 2003.
His laboratory continues to study the amygdala using a combination of molecular tools, electrophysiology, anatomical reconstruction and calcium imaging. More recently his laboratory has begun research work on humans doing electrophysiological recordings in patients undergoing electrode implantation for deep brain stimulation for the treatment of movement disorders in Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor and Tourette’s syndrome. He has published over 90 papers in international peer reviewed journals.