This year, learning was the main topic of the International Women's Day alumni seminar organised by Aalto University's Partnership Services. The event at the Harald Herlin Learning Centre was attended by 150 Aalto alumni, who were there to hear Anita Lehikoinen's, who is the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education and Culture, and panellists' thoughts on learning.
Panellists included professor and Vice Dean Teemu Leinonen from the School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto Online Learning project manager, Docent Tomi Kauppinen from the School of Sciences, a recent alumnus of the School of Business Minna Rissanen as well as Lauri Järvilehto, CEO of Lightneer, a company specialised in developing learning through games.
Finland is a frontrunner in nearly all learning-related comparisons. However, the level of expertise is increasing internationally at a rapid pace. Finland is still a world leader, but our development trend has taken a negative turn.
'We have much that is good. Our public administration is effective, and we are very successful in adult education, although participants are generally those with a good status in the labour market. It is also a good thing that Finland's higher education system is of a uniform standard. Our best universities are not as good as the best in the United States and the United Kingdom, but, on the other hand, we do not have any universities that are not good. We still place exceptionally well in the PISA Survey, but our mathematics expertise, for one, has declined,'
A decline in the amount of higher education is an obstacle for economic growth
According to Anita Lehikoinen, the share of people in Finland with a higher education grew from 1991 to 2015, but other countries are passing us. It also seems that the share of people with a higher education has begun to decline. China, for one, is investing in education and research, and it is going to pass Finland in the percentage of the population with a higher education. Chinese students also return to their home country after their education, which is a great advantage for China.
'Only jobs requiring a high level of expertise will grow in number, and we should not rely on a growth in medium level jobs, as their share will decline everywhere. Jobs that require less professional expertise will be replaced by robotics, while expert jobs, which require creative problem solving, will still require people to do them. This will be a great social change,' Ms Lehikoinen said.
'Education makes a difference; an insufficient education makes it difficult to get a foot in the door when it comes to working life. We are investing in secondary education so that it will as much as possible meet the requirements set by the labour market. Previously, we were worried that too many people in Finland had a higher education, but this is not the case. Finland does not overeducate its population. There is a clear correlation between degrees and jobs. The higher a degree, the better people make it through recessions.'
'In the future, it will be important for people to focus on training their interaction and mathematics skills. Expertise is made up of what we know and understand, how we are able to utilise knowledge and how we participate in surrounding society. Multidisciplinary skills and expertise as well as creativity, critical thinking and curiosity become more emphasised. A lot of excellent work is carried out at Aalto, and our alumni can be very happy about this,' Ms Lehikoinen stated.
Learning is a continuous process
Panellists contemplated on learning from different perspectives. Interaction, diversity and enthusiasm were highlighted in the discussion after the panel's moderator Saara Hyrkkö, who graduated from Aalto with a MSc (Tech) and is Secretary General of the Union of Upper Secondary School Students asked panellists' about the best way to learn.
According to Lauri Järvilehto, people can gain the joy of learning from seeking that which they themselves feel is interesting.
'When you find your own area of interest, being enthusiastic is easy, and if teachers are genuinely enthusiastic about their subject area, their students will be too. Teachers should adjust to more enthusiastic approach to the subject area they teach. Mr Järvilehto also noted how an interest in learning in "encoded" in small children; toddlers poke at electrical outlets and anything else they can reach. Where does this interest disappear,' Järvilehto asked.
'A readiness for continuous learning is of key importance,' Anita Lehikoinen emphasised. 'Creativity, humanity, criticality, as well as the joy and enjoyment of learning are all aspects of learning. New methods of learning such as games are important.' According to Lauri Järvilehto, even in the recruitment process, it is not critical who knows the most, but rather who is willing to learn more.
Interaction allows us to learn from one another
Teemu Leinonen mentioned the forest, sauna and Aalto University's new learning centre, where the seminar was held, as examples of good learning environments. Tomi Kauppinen contemplated on the development of online teaching and whether it increases the gap between teachers and students. He felt that online teaching has earned it place as part of education, but that gathering people together to share their ideas is also important.
Minna Rissanen continued by expressing a wish that mass lectures could be viewed online and that people could gather in a lecture hall in those situations where interaction was key to learning. According to Anita Lehikoinen, there are fewer than seven students per teacher in Finland. In light of this ratio, there should be plenty of possibilities for interaction between teachers and students. What is most important is that the social learning community teaches at least as much as the teacher.
'Many teaching approaches and methods are needed,' Teemu Leinonen said. He gave the following as an example of an effective teaching method: students are assigned the task of watching a documentary at home and writing down what they felt was good about it and what they did not understand. After this, the documentary is discussed face-to-face at a lecture. There are four chairs in the lecture room in which the people who want to participate in the discussion can take turns sitting. According to Mr Leinonen, it is very important for education that students are able to concretely take part in doing things already the first year of their studies. Students should be in labs and studios on the very first day of their studies.
Tomi Kauppinen felt that a coaching approach was important. 'Learning requires that each of us coaches others while we ourselves are coached. Workshops are excellent for this. Students should also always when they remember ask "why? ". Asking is generally a good tool for learning,' he said.
Anita Lehikoinen also added the viewpoint that not everyone needs to be "incredibly extroverted". You can also practice interaction skills without changing who you are.