The Lifelong Learning Platform participated in a mobility learning activity at CICERO Learning, a network for distinguished researchers and research groups on learning based at the University of Helsinki. Andrew Todd, Policy and Advocacy Officer at the LLLPlatform, shares here his experience and insights on how innovative research can contribute to education policy.
How can educational research inform policy-making? This was a question at the forefront of my mind when I visited CICERO Learning at the University of Helsinki in October as part of an Erasmus+ KA1 job shadowing.
CICERO Learning is a network of researchers from various disciplines who have an interest in learning. The network seeks to promote innovations and synergies between research communities which can benefit society. The aim of my visit was to gain an understanding of the educational research which the academics in Helsinki are working on in order to inform my policy work at the Lifelong Learning Platform. As a network of associations active in the field of education and training, the LLLP sees the benefit of collaboration with researchers working in the learning domain in view of the valuable lessons and insights this can bring for education policy-making.
Sound, movement and the dynamics of learning
Studies have shown a correlation between physical activity carried out in one’s free time and academic performance. This goes towards explaining why Finnish schools have a long tradition of regular breaks between classes in order to give children more time to move and play. A fascinating area where a number of the researchers, including Prof Mari Tervaniemi, Dr Minna Huotilainen and Dr Minna Törmänen, have been working on is the effect of both movement and music on learning processes. Prof Tervaniemi’s research has involved studying the effects of music interventions on the brain through brain recording methods (EGG) and this has shown that it is possible to observe parts of the brain react and enlarge in response to the music. In light of this effect on cognitive function, the question arises about whether music activities have the potential to enhance learning.
Photo credits to Katri Saarikivi
The longitudinal research project that Prof Tervaniemi, Dr Törmänen and others are now carrying out seeks to bring together music and movement in the classroom to observe the impact on cognitive functions, academic skills and social interaction. Doing this in the classroom does not have to be a complicated process but can be as simple as incorporating some light clapping and singing into the usual lessons. Indeed, as Prof Tervaniemi explained to me, if this is well-planned and introduced at an appropriate stage in the children’s learning, the effects can be very positive, which has been confirmed by teachers themselves. It will be interesting to follow this study and to see what its final results can teach us about the learning process.
Learning of global competencies
Researchers at Helsinki University are working on the development of pedagogical tools that support students’ learning of “global competencies”, also commonly known as soft or transferable skills. The group of researchers – Dlearn.Helsinki – had their work recognised by reaching the finale of the Helsinki Challenge, a competition where teams of researchers from ten Finnish universities work on solutions aimed at helping to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Speaking with team leader Prof Auli Toom, she explained that these kinds of generic skills can be difficult for educators at upper secondary and university level to grasp and integrate alongside subject-specific competences. This is nevertheless important to address given that the development of such skills can determine students’ success in later professional life. “Team Dlearn. Helsinki” is hence seeking to develop a solution that combines global competencies and today’s school system. In view of the rapidly changing world in which we live and the societal challenges we are facing, this is no doubt a crucial task.
Pathways to adulthood
I also had the opportunity to speak with Prof Katariina Salmela-Aro about her research on young people’s learning pathways. She has looked into the issue of school-to-work transitions and reports that study-related burnout and engagement problems can lead to similar issues during working life. This brings to light the importance of prioritising well-being in the school environment. Moreover, Prof Salmela-Aro calls for a smoother transition of Finnish students to university studies as they are relatively late in starting these studies compared to their European peers – the average age to start university in Finland is 23 years old – due to, among other factors, a complex process of entrance examinations. It is important to address this in Prof Salmela-Aro’s view as it can have a long-term impact on young people’s learning pathways and participation in lifelong learning.
An interesting concept that I discussed with post doctoral researcher Ms Marianna Vivitsou was the use of digital storytelling as a pedagogical method in schools. Digital storytelling involves setting a task for students where they use digital devices to record a video with a specific theme and subsequently edit the clips to construct a story. Ms Vivitsou explained that this student-centred approach can make learning a more complete and meaningful process as the learners have to reflect on how to build a coherent narrative. Thus, it is not just about the skills required to use digital devices but about the way in which story construction can serve to improve the process of teaching and learning.
Learning analytics was another topic that I became acquainted with during my visit, this time during a meeting with Dr Ari Korhonen from Aalto University. He pointed out the benefits that automatic assessment, for example, can have for both students and educators as it gives the former a better idea of their current progress and the latter a rich set of data to help them understand how their students are doing in the course rather than relying solely on traditional methods. Indeed, Dr Korhonen explained that learning analytics can enable educators to identity misconceptions that their students have of the course material and thus help them to reflect on how they are teaching certain topics.
My visit to CICERO Learning was an enriching experience which showed that many of the researchers share LLLP’s humanistic vision of education where a learner-centred approach, the well-being of learners and the development of transversal skills are valued. It was also interesting to see how the researchers’ perspectives on digitalisation complement recommendations on use of digital technology in learning environments included in the recent LLLP position paper Reimagining education for the digital age.
I would like to thank CICERO Research Director Prof Mari Tervaniemi and CICERO Project Coordinator Mr Hector Nystedt for helping to organise my job shadowing and to all the researchers who took the time to present their work.