Digitalization of learning – how and why?

No words have been enough when praising the Finnish basic education in the last few years. Our astonishing PISA success has drawn international attention and policymakers from far and wide have visited Finland one after the other to learn the key factors behind our success.

My own interest in the Finnish education system stems from the day my children started their school path. I followed with awe as the teachers taught their pupils to critically analyze information and draw the kind of conclusions I hadn’t been able to draw until near adulthood.

My interest grew deeper between 2010 and 2012, when I discussed the Finnish system with a number of known business executives and politicians from abroad, and asked them how much exactly would they be willing to pay for a packaged product called The Finnish school. My interest grew to a point where I signed up to the Open University of Helsinki to study educational theory. My goal was to get a basic understanding of the education system to be able to determine whether or not some of its components could in fact be packaged.

As a result of my studies I was left feeling both powerless and humbly proud at the same time. The Finnish teacher education together with the basic education reform has been an unbeatable combination, which has allowed us to teach and learn our way to the top of the world, and become a role model for the ministries of education worldwide. The academically educated primary school teachers of Finland carry the core principals of education within them and take them into practice in their job every single day. Unfortunately, this gained position at the top will not last long without constant development, self evaluation and re-assessment of methods. The world around us is changing and so the schools must change with it.

One of the essential drivers for this constant need for change is the digitalization of our everyday life. Digitalization is a very broad term but in the context of education I personally see it as taking advantage of digital learning tools, materials, and methods in teaching.

During the last few months there haven’t been many days when the Finnish newspapers wouldn’t have written about the challenges and possibilities of moving towards digital content in schools.

From my point of view, you can sum up the discussion to three main points:

  • Digitalization of learning will happen whether the teachers and pupils want it or not. What this actually means for future schools remains a mystery. There has been talk about robots taking over the teaching and the possibility of completing your basic education remotely from home. This would mean the end of traditional school buildings.
  • It has been understood that as easy as digitalization of learning sounds, making it happen in practice is far from easy.
  • The meaning of digital is constantly changing, and keeping up with this change requires continued learning and change management in our schools.

At the moment Finland has one of the best school systems in the world. The system has given us not only great basic education but also an incredible amount of excellent digital learning content, gamified teaching methods, and scientific research about issues concerning the digitalization of learning. There is a huge potential there, but taking full advantage of it and bringing the new, digital know-how into everyday teaching is all but simple and painless.

I think it is safe to say that the basic elements for reforming the schools are there (or at the very least being born) but fitting all the pieces together is still at a very early stage. I dare to claim that it will still take many years before the Finnish schools are able to provide an equal, digital basic education for every pupil in the country.

Luckily, the work has already begun. Step by step our school system and our teaching methods develop further. Hopefully these steps take us in the right direction.