Cambridge University and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore establish new research centre to support

A new research centre focused on improving support for lifelong learning and cognitive agility opened on 1 October 2020 in Singapore.

The programme will enhance the science of learning by innovative interventions and methods, for training cognitive flexibility over the life span

Trevor Robbins

The Centre for Lifelong Learning and Individualised Cognition (CLIC) is a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), and is funded by Singapore’s National Research Foundation.

Cultivating new skills is a lifelong process that requires cognitive flexibility, yet there is currently a gap in evidence-based training programmes that can effectively support and promote this way of learning throughout people’s lives.

Cognitive flexibility goes far beyond conventional IQ; it is the essential capacity for responding to the fluctuating events of the modern world. It underlies adaptive coping to change, and also the generation of innovative, creative thinking.

Trevor Robbins, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience Psychology in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology and a senior academic advisor to the programme, said: “Understanding the psychological basis of cognitive flexibility and its basis in the brain will have enormous societal benefits, with educational, as well as clinical, impact.”

He added: “This novel and original collaborative programme by two leading Universities will enhance the science of learning by innovative interventions and methods, for training cognitive flexibility over the life span.”

The research programme will be led by Zoe Kourtzi, Professor of Experimental Psychology in Cambridge’s Department of Psychology. Involving researchers in psychology, neuroscience, linguistics and education, CLIC will explore cross-disciplinary ways to develop innovative research in the science of learning. The ultimate goal is to translate these research findings into an integrated model of learning that can be applied in the real world, improving cognitive flexibility across the life span.

Research will focus on four life stages – early years, adolescence, young adults and middle age – when flexible behaviour is critical for coping with changing circumstances. During these periods the brain undergoes neural changes such as early maturation, restructuring or resilience to decline, presenting important opportunities for intervention.

NTU Senior Vice President (Research), Professor Lam Khin Yong said: “The cross-disciplinary collaboration between researchers from NTU Singapore and Cambridge University is expected to have wide-ranging impact on workers, as technology and globalisation change the nature of labour markets worldwide.”

He added: “The ability to develop and master new skills at the workplace is becoming increasingly pressing globally. Singapore’s nationwide SkillsFuture programme, for example, gives opportunities for people to develop their fullest potential throughout life. Yet, we know that differences in individual cognitive functions can affect learning and performance. This is where research in the Science of Learning can play a key role in enhancing educational outcomes and practice. The new Centre will support the country’s drive in helping the workforce prepare for the digital economy, as businesses turn to automation.”

Annabel Chen, Co-Director of CLIC and Professor of Psychology and Director for the Centre for Research and Development in Learning (CRADLE) at NTU, Singapore, said: “This is an exciting development for research in the Science of Learning. We have been working closely with colleagues from Cambridge, and tapping into expertise across NTU, including the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Nanyang Business School, National Institute of Education, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and College of Engineering to develop the CLIC programme.”

She added: “This development complements the Science of Learning Initiative in the Centre of Research and Development in Learning (CRADLE), launched by NTU in 2015. With this multidisciplinary effort and input from the Ministry of Education and SkillsFuture Singapore, we believe our programme will be able to provide insights and translatable solutions for the Future of Learning and Economy in Singapore and beyond.”

The collaboration was brought together through the presence of the University of Cambridge’s first overseas research centre in Singapore, the Centre for Advanced Research and Education in Singapore Ltd (CARES). CARES was established in 2013 under the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) – a collection of 15 joint research programmes between local universities and top overseas institutions funded by Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF). The Centre hosts several research programmes, most of which involve NTU and focus on the decarbonisation of Singapore’s chemical industry.

The new programme on the science of learning is a novel direction for CARES and CREATE, bringing together expertise from Cambridge and Singapore to investigate new ways of helping people prepare and adapt to the rapidly changing workplace.

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