Technology and Modern Learning Spaces in Finland

The Finnish National Core Curriculum was renewed in 2014 and implemented into use in basic education schools in 2016-2017 as municipalities reformed their own curricula. The core curriculum is a normative document that sets overall guidelines in otherwise very independent world of Finnish schools. The curriculum introduces an abundance of various modifications and alterations into Finnish teaching and learning processes. Some of the key goals of the reform (according to The National Board of Education) are:
• Enhancing pupil participation
• Increasing the meaningfulness of study and making it possible for each and every pupil to experience success
• Children and youths are guided in assuming more responsibility for their schoolwork, but, in accordance with this, also given more support in their studies
• The pupils set goals, solve problems and assess their learning based on set targets.
• The pupils’ experiences, feelings, areas of interest and interaction with others lay the foundation for learning
• The teacher’s task is to instruct and guide the pupils into becoming lifelong learners, by taking the individual learning approaches of each pupil into consideration.

Technology is a new tool that today is not solely used in enhancing learning but as an integral part of everyday studying and learning. With the new curriculum, the role of technology in learning has been promoted to play an increasingly significant role in the new Finnish school framework. But as we all know, educational process is a complex paradigm and in this context students’ learning – albeit a crucial factor and the ultimate goal- is only one piece of the puzzle: if you bring technology into classroom setting but nothing else is changed, the role of technology will diminish, bringing no real change into learning. The whole of school’s operational culture must evolve in order to make a systemic change.

With this in mind, also the school leaders and architects have gradually put the need of modifications in physical learning environment under a microscope. Instead of classrooms, there is talk about learning spaces. The concept of learning environment is something that does not end in the walls of schools. Learning outside schools, in nature and in museums etc. is being promoted. Designers are seeing schools buildings as versatile, flexible space that adapt into the specific needs of the learner, not the other way around as it traditionally has been for centuries. As long as learning in a classroom is carried out in a teacher-centred manner and is book- or subject based, there is not necessarily a need to make changes to the classroom setting. However, when learning happens through project-based learning, phenomenon based teaching and learning methods or collaborative knowledge building, there is a need for new viewpoints. When designing schools we should consider flexible learning environments that can be adapted for groups of various sizes and of differentiated needs, furniture that is suitable for various activities and the utilization of mobile or even ubiquitous technologies not forgetting e.g. adaptable lighting, floor style etc.

As the physical surroundings in new school buildings are moulding according to a concept of learning that is prevalent today, how can technology adapt into these changes? We have already seen how mobile technology- first with laptops and then with tablet computers and mobile phones- has been given a strong position in schools over the world. Touch screen technology and wireless networks along with the concept of 1:1 (one student per device) ideology has given students and teachers novel ways in redefining how to implement technology into teaching and learning. A personal device creates a feeling of ownership and makes it possible for students to use their devices so that they can fully concentrate on learning and use technology like any other learning tool.

Robotics, coding, augmented, virtual and added reality can be seen as the next steps in how technology can help in preparing the students to learn the skills needed in the future world. Technology can play as key role in promoting learning and be as its best in school framework whether it is pupil participation, adding meaningfulness and interaction, collaboration and knowledge building. Technology to be used in schools should always be designed from the learner’s point of view: how can it make way for learning, remove obstacles, be simple to use, serve learners with special needs, used in versatile spaces and be moved around easily, how can it empower knowledge building and sharing knowledge with peer learners etc.

It seems that because of technology, we are living in a breach where the connection of learning to space and time is evolving. When designing new learning spaces we should take a holistic look into the field of education and try to adjust the physical surrounding as well as technology into the current concept of learning, not forgetting the pedagogical issues. In addition, as technology is rapidly evolving we should try to anticipate what is to come. We should design learning spaces, which promote co-coordination and collaborative processes of students and with the help of technology support deep learning and assist students attain the learning objectives.

by Dr. Keijo Sipilä