Beyond classrooms

E-tools, games and creative space make learning effective and fun.

UNIVERSITY of Helsinki’s Professor of Education Kristiina Kumpulainen and Playful Learning Centre (PLC) project manager Olavi Mertanen are strong supporters of games and digital technology in learning.

PLC is a living lab for playful learning solutions, linking academic research communities and the educational games industry.

“Kids can even pick up basic programming skills through play.

“We have a game where a researcher, who pretends to be a robot, would pick up an item from the floor based on directions received from the class,” Mertanen quips.

Meanwhile, Kumpulainen disagrees with not allowing kids access to tablets and smartphones. Instead, she advocates responsible use of e-tools but feels that more research is needed to identify the “good games” that promote learning and creativity.

She feels that children learn better when they’re allowed to explore and engage physically. The teacher is there to make sure that no one gets left behind, not to dictate what the child should do.

“By year 2020, the emphasis will be on phenomenon, rather than classroom, learning.

“For example, kids learn science and mathematics outdoors when they learn about water quality in the lakes.”

Predicting that the future of education will be more even flexible, she says children will learn from being outdoors, in the virtual world, museums and work places.

Teachers, however, must remain the creative force as teaching becomes more collaborative, she feels.

University of Helsinki post-doctoral researcher Dr Olli Vesterinen is a proponent of “omnipresent learning” – learning that happens continuously both formally and informally, in physical and virtual environments.

Believing that so much learning happens outside of schools, he says it’s no longer possible to rely only on schoolbooks.

Claned partner and CEO Mervi Palander, whose company provides a cloud-based free digital learning environment, says students want to be in charge of their own learning.

They want to be part of a global classroom - a collaborative digital learning environment outside school, she says, noting that data on learning habits is crucial to create personalised learning tools that suit the students best.

“It’s about understanding learning characteristics.”

Funzi, a mobile learning corporation, applies pedagogical skills in the repackaging of existing web content so that it is accessible via the most basic mobile phones.

As the Internet is already full of information, its CEO Tero Salonen says providing access to quality learning is the biggest challenge.

There’s a need to revolutionise access to the Internet so that self-improvement is left up to the individual, he feels.

SmartKid, developed by SkillPixels to enhance the way children learn, is another example of effective learning technology.

SkillPixels founder and chief scientist Harri Ketamo explains that the idea is not to teach kids right and wrong but to develop and evaluate understanding.

The game, he says, highlights the active and inherent learning urge kids naturally have. It motives kids to achieve a basic level of knowledge before they can advance in the game.

“Decisions the child makes while playing gives the educator valuable information on his or her learning,” Ketamo says.

He stresses that games don’t teach children – children teach the game.

While technology has an indispensably role in Finnish education, learning space, University of Helsinki’s Professor of Educational Psychology Kirsti Lonka stresses, is just as important.

Giving an example, she says teachers trained in lecture halls will teach the way they were taught.

Passive listening must make way for social interaction and physical space facilitates that, she says, adding that reorganising and innovating spaces is not about beautiful tables, fancy stuff or expensive technology.

It’s about creating pedagogical space. Think tables with wheels, bean bags, exercise balls or yoga mats instead of chairs, she offers.

Sitting eight hours a day in a static position is terrible, she says.

“You should be able to do Zumba, move the furniture around or just sit together and share!

“My life’s mission is to save kids from being bored because it causes stress.

“Pedagogical space, WiFi, mobile phones, a projector and computer are all you need.”

This generation, she observes, acquires knowledge by creating it.

“Those who actively seek information and do things are the best learners because the brain doesn’t work if you just take in stuff – there must be output.”

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