Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Paul A. Kirschner & Mirjam Neelen

Question: What educational research is absolutely critical for educators to know of and use in their teaching? Paul A. Kirschner, Luce Claessens, and Steven Raaijmakers have just written a book (in Dutch), bringing these absolute core pieces together and showing how teachers can use them to their own and their learners’ benefit. The book, aimed at (future) primary school teachers, will also be available via open access starting January 12th. In the coming months we’ll choose a few of the chapters and summarise them in our blog here.

In 1675, Isaac Newton wrote a letter to colleague and competitor Robert Hooke in which he wrote: “If I have seen further, it is by standing of the shoulders of giants.”


What he meant is that research and our knowledge progresses by building on earlier discoveries by others. That’s how it usually goes, both in research and in ‘real life’: every now and again a giant rises and then we, ordinary mortals, build on top of their brilliance.

A while back, Sanna Järvelä, Paul’s colleague-professor at the University of Oulu (Finland) asked him if he could provide a list with ten core articles from educational and cognitive psychology that all members of their research group should be familiar with. The question intrigued Paul and he started to ponder it. To make sure that the list wouldn’t be too limited or coloured by his own personal preferences, he also did some crowdsourcing on Twitter and Facebook. The request resulted in a long list of books and articles, which Paul supplemented with summaries and published as a blog (see here). This blog was a huge hit and that triggered the idea to take it to the next level.

Things got real when Paul was chatting with Monique Marreveld, chief editor of Didactief, a magazine for teachers in the Netherlands. Paul told her he was playing with the idea of writing a book in which approximately 25 of these ‘seminal’ articles would be discussed in such a way that (future) teachers could use them in practice. A book that doesn’t only discuss what the research says but also how teachers can use it to their benefit, such as how to apply the knowledge in daily practice to improve teaching and learning. In order to support teachers even better, the book would also include supplemental materials, such as links to articles, videos, and blogs.

After a failed attempt to find funding from his national science foundation, Paul let the idea simmer for a little bit, until an unexpected opportunity arose. While having breakfast in a hotel in Finland, Paul met Harrie van de Ven, chair of the executive board of Optimus Primair Onderwijs (Optimus Primary Education). He told Paul that he was on a ‘fact-finding’ trip with a group of educational directors from primary education and members from the PO-Raad (Primary Education Board) and he asked if Paul would be willing to talk to this group that same evening and answer their questions. Paul negotiated that Harrie would pay for the booze (bourbon is not cheap in Finland!) and off he went. To make a long story short, Harrie organised some crowdfuning. Ten large educational organisations, one teaching college, and the PO-Raad chipped in to ensure the book could make its appearance.

The goal: Enable teachers to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Monique was prepared to add the book to the ‘Didactief-series’ on teaching and learning and to organise the required logistics. Together with Luce Claessens and Steven Raaijmakers from Utrecht University, as well as editor Bea Ros, the project was kicked off.

After much hard work, it’s here. The book ‘Op de Schouders van Reuzen’ (ENG: On the Shoulders of Giants) has arrived; patiently waiting as a Christmas present for all teachers who are working for the generous donors.

Of course there’s more to it. The book is also available in print for anyone interested and will be presented at ResearchED in Nieuwegein, the Netherlands, on January 12th, 2019 where the online open access version will be launched. This means that all (future) teachers, parents, education directors, teacher education teachers and students, politicians, and whoever else who’s interested, can download the book for free. All have an opportunity to learn by standing on the shoulders of giants! An offer you can’t refuse!

In this blog, we will summarise a selection of the book chapters. Stay tuned!

P.S. If there are any publishers or people with connections to publishers, who think that this should be translated into English, Spanish, Swedish, Swahili or whatever, contact Paul either via this blog, DM in Twitter (P_A_Kirschner), or his Open University email address 🙂.

christmas tree


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