Dutch inspiration for future-led learning

The Teaching Lab team organised a benchmarking trip to the Netherlands to wrap-up this exciting year. Our team visited Utrecht University, TU Eindhoven, TU Delft, and the University of Amsterdam focusing on meeting faculty and staff working with challenge-based learning, innovations in education, summer schools, and extension schools. Based on the interesting discussions and experiences during this visit, we summed up four insights when developing future-led learning.
Teaching Lab team in Netherlands
Teaching Lab team Silva Saulio, Laura Kitinoja, and Niina Pitkänen in Delft, Netherlands | photo: Laura Sivula


1. Designing education solutions for life-long learners is a must

Lifelong learning is a hot topic, not only in Finland. During discussions in the Netherlands, we found out about summer schools, extension programmes and online learning practices. Jeron L. Torenbeek, Director of Utrecht Summer School, gave an excellent example of how the Utrecht Summer School makes use of unutilised teaching spaces and student accommodation during the summer. Utrecht University sees thousands of students participating in the selection of an extensive summer curriculum.

We received the same message at TU Delft when discussing with Willem van Valkenburg, Director of TU Delft Teaching Lab. He oversees a growing number of online extension courses open for life-long learners.

Since our international colleagues are already doing experiments with modern education solutions, we must continue designing our actions for eager learners in every stage of (work-)life. Luckily, next year, Aalto University will focus more on education solutions for life-long learners with the renewal of the Aalto Summer School concept. The Summer School organisation will offer help for setting up summer courses through info sessions organised during spring 2020.

2. One-size-fits-all does not work for challenge-based learning

Building work-life relevant learning opportunities is a very timely subject for many universities around the world, and challenge-based learning can be found in many university strategies.

Challenge-based learning popped up as a discussion topic in almost all the meetings we had in the Netherlands. We discussed challenge-based learning in engineering, medicine, biomedical sciences, humanities, and business. Talking with Heleen van Raavenswaaij, Project Manager for Educate-It Academyfrom Utrecht University, was insightful in recognising the similarities in development challenges across disciplines. Finding scalability for challenge-based learning from a university-wide perspective is demanding, but the solution does not lie in a set of rules or a one-size-fits-all mentality.

In the end, challenge-based learning is a mindset for re-defining and re-designing higher education in a way that is relevant from a work-life perspective and involves participants beyond the teacher and student. All teaching should not be challenge-based, but all students should have the possibility to attend challenge-based learning experiences as part of their degree.

3. Building spaces for learning and collaboration is essential - whether they are physical or mental

During our trip, we witnessed some fantastic spaces for learning and collaboration. TU Eindhoven’s Innovation Space is both a physical building and a community for challenge-based learning, design, and entrepreneurship. It also provides space and support for teacher development and educational innovation.

TU Delft’s Teaching Lab is a physical environment for the university’s learning services. It hosts the Teaching Academy, which provides support for teacher training. The mission for both spaces is very similar to bring together a community of teachers who want to develop higher education teaching and learning.

Professor Isabelle Reymen from TU Eindhoven presented the university’s new strategy with a mission for making all learning at the university challenge-based, and how the Innovation Space aims to help teachers in the transformation.

We are yet to see a vibrant physical space for collaboration at Aalto University. Nevertheless, current strategic initiatives in the field of teaching and learning have been able to build communities and mindsets for teacher development and educational innovation. It is also an excellent question to consider whether we should start with physical or mental spaces when creating new solutions for future-led learning.

4. Benchmarking can help in recognising our strengths

Discussing with colleagues at Dutch universities opened our eyes to the fact that at least from a European perspective, we are dealing with very similar development needs relating to work-life relevance in teaching and learning, making higher education more challenge-based, and finding new opportunities in life-long learning and extension courses.

However, what should be recognised is that each university is different and requires a tailored solution for shared challenges. The key is figuring out what differentiates us from other universities in Europe and across the world. What is the unique Aalto insight that we can bring to the playing field?

Visiting benchmark universities is an excellent way to find international alignment for the strategic work we do at our home university. What we recognised during the trip is that visits provide a unique opportunity not just for learning from others, but also for gaining perspective of our strengths. We were happy to discover that Aalto University shines in integrated multidisciplinarity, and has an influential culture for university-industry collaboration.

The reason for choosing the Netherlands as a benchmarking destination is that the universities are well ranked on a global scale. Also, the structure of government funding for higher education in the Netherlands and the composition of faculties, especially in the technical universities, makes these universities good benchmarks for developing teaching and learning at Aalto University.

Thank you Netherlands and the amazing year of 2019!

Teaching Lab  — Designing future-proof education
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