Phenomenon-based learning – what is it about?

The Finnish National Core Curriculum 2014 has brought about changes in teaching practices in Finnish classrooms. One novel thing is the addition of multidisciplinary learning modules, i.e. phenomenon-based learning.

One of the most common misunderstandings is that phenomenon-based learning would replace subjects altogether. This is not true; schools are still maintaining subject lessons. However, on the side of the lessons, the Curriculum introduces multidisciplinary learning that bridges knowledge from various subjects.

Even though added into the national framework only recently, phenomenon-based teaching and learning is in no way a novel thing in Finnish schools. Co-teaching, and inquiry-based learning and project work have been done in Finnish schools since the 80s but has only now become a part of the nationwide framework.

What? What phenomenon-based teaching and learning means is multi-disciplinary projects in which students work on larger themes for a given time. According to the new Core Curriculum, there should be at least one such extended period within a school year. Objective, contents and implementation methods are decided on a local level. The National Core Curriculum states that the students are to be included in planning the projects.

How? Project themes can be almost anything: they range from the European Union to climate change to students’ family trees – the only requirement is that the content should mirror the school’s values and school culture. A good example is a project called ‘Family in the Society’ that combined social studies and health education for 9-graders. The project discussed vaccinations, health care and social security, among other things.

Why? For students, learning about real-life issues makes learning more meaningful. Phenomenon-based modules enable students to link knowledge and skills from various fields, and to structure them into meaningful entities. Project work promotes application and communal building of knowledge through which students expand and structure their worldview. Phenomenon-based learning supports the development of transversal competences and 21st century skills, which both are in a vital role in the Core Curriculum.