Phenomenon-based Learning

What can the UK learn from Finland’s “Phenomenon-based” Teaching?


If there was ever a time when innovative teaching and learning styles were needed to help solve real world problems crying out to be tackled, that time is now. And the solution could be right before us.

Phenomenon-based learning is a key tool in teachers’ armoury to help address global issues that threaten our planet’s future. It’s a multidisciplinary, instructional learning approach which is based on problem solving and student inquiry. The approach has Nordic roots which can be traced back to the 2016 education movement in Finland. Finnish students study one module every year with the phenomenon-based learning approach.

Phenomenon-based learning is not based on one specific subject and there are no defined learning outcomes. Rather, learners explore and solve questions and address issues by application of several subjects relevant to the problem.

So why is it popular? In traditional teaching, teachers teach a set curriculum and the student learns by listening. This passive style doesn’t suit all students, as it often means there’s a focus on memory and recall. Phenomenon-based learning emphasises long-term learning benefits from action-based participatory and immersive learning practices.
Moreover, traditional learning tends to centre teaching on subjects in isolation. Theories and concepts across disciplines are often viewed disparately, as opposed to holistically connecting the links and overlaps between them.

The benefits of phenomenon-based learning are many. It encourages independent thinking and teamwork, improving problem solving abilities and communication skills. Students are generally more engaged as they can work towards subjects of interest to them – they learn the interconnectivity of several diverse disciplines. Think, Arts meets STEM subjects. And importantly, they can apply findings to real life scenarios.

The downsides of phenomenon-based learning include fewer learning goals than you get with more structured study. Instead, the learning takes part through active participation and action-based learning, rather than through memorising facts.

Phenomenon-based learning is an excellent approach to help tackle real life issues or events within a global context. If taken up over a large, global and social scale, its creative and holistic approach to crossing the boundaries between subjects could help to address, and potentially solve, some of society’s biggest problems.

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