Suvi Sundquist: Learning Festival Lights Up Helsinki

4/15/2014

Learning is fun, so why shouldn't professional conferences in the topic be? Oppi-festival, organized in Helsinki on April 11-12 set the mood and challenged educational professionals to practice what they preach. The result was a festival celebrating learning, everywhere.

The festivals program covered learning from the slums of India and societies in deep poverty to the most modern school settings. Several workshops gave hands on experience in how to apply new methods enhancing learning. Speakers challenged our thinking on where learning can lead to. Will.i.am's foundation skyped a group of ghetto neighborhood students in Los Angeles. At 5a.m. their local time, these teenagers were up and sharing their experiences. Lives had been turned around. Finnish rapper Signmark, who's deaf, shared his learning path in life, an awesome example of dreams and persistence. The international space station sent a video teaching concepts of inertia. Session after session, the festival was teaching: Anything is possible.


International space station demonstrates the concept of inertia.

3D arrives in school

The audience also got to try out some new learning solutions. As there were some breaks in the student groups touring the showcase area, we adults too got a chance to get down to the real stuff. I crouched at Rovio's Angry Bird Playground, meant for pre-school aged children, to make my own animation. Researchers from Helsinki University guided me through. Language lessons were available by Skilltize, music composing by Songhi. The cute math games I already knew from 10Monkeys and SkillPixels. Serious adults turned exited as they plucked the strings of the Finnish "kantele" or played floorball. Work is fun, too!

I put on 3D glasses and off I went with a teacher, diving into a virtual human body, this time following the pathway of air into lungs. Human physiology lessons will never be the same. Or biology. Or chemistry. Oh the list just goes on!

The festival atmosphere was curious and playful. Guests were international educators, companies, policy makers and of course children and youth. Pictures courtesy of Suklaa Ltd, photographer Niko Alajoki.

So is it a business?

One of the festival sessions discussed education export. Educators and governments collaborate to share best practices and help each other out and that's of course good. This is sometimes called "export" on behalf of the more developed country. Depending on context, people may mean collaboration, transfer of physical goods across borders or just international business.

Education expenditure globally is counted in the trillions. To me that's an industry, even if educators don't necessarily want to think of it that way. Education and learning is also a market where business has its role. The market is made up from all the tools that educators need to do their job: buildings, furniture, books, pencils, tablets, digital content and so on.

So apart from being fun, is learning a growing business? As countries across the globe consider updating their educational systems, what are the tools needed to modernize? And how do these markets move?

Better than Silicon Valley

The Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes held a breakfast session on the morning of Oppi festival to discuss market trends and digital learning innovations. The key trend is towards personalized learning processes. "How else can you do that cost-effectively, unless with the help of technology?" asked a market analyst representing Gartner. Tekes has funded 60 companies since 2011 in the topic. 70% of our corporate funding has gone to micro and small companies. From Finland's perspective, the digital revolution is driven by a start-up scene that asks: why not?

"Starts to look like Silicon Valley" commented trainer Marianne Poulsen on the atmosphere during our breakfast session. A perfect storm seems to be building in Finland, with education excellence, post-Nokia ICT era, Nordic lifestyle, design thinking and start-up DNA all twirling together, growing momentum and excitement.

"The ambition is not to be like Silicon Valley" said Peter Vesterbacka of Rovio in a festival panel. "It's to be better, because we're different."

So what can the education sector learn from start-ups? I'd say it's their bold, a bit crazy can-do attitude, the spirit of living and breathing their idea and working lean. As the world changes, start-ups challenge existing structures and drive the forefront of change. A nation's education reform initiatives would well benefit from adapting some of this start-up culture. As a conference the Oppi-festival was clearly in the start-up category: fresh, unique, surprising, serious in content but in just-a-bit-wacky-way and operated by a lean team with passion and loads of energy. Thank you and congratulations to festival organisers Suklaa Ltd and the Finnish Institute in London!

Finnish start-ups showcase at Oppi festival

Festival website www.oppifestival.com.

The writer is the manager of Tekes Learning Solutions Programme, visit website at www.tekes.fi/en/learningsolutions, follow in Twitter SuviSundquist.

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