Phenomenon-based Learning

For years, Finland has had one of the best educational systems in the world. In 2016, they decided to make it even better – by developing an educational method to prepare students for the future. They called it “phenomenon-based learning” (or PhenoBL). Instead of teaching by subject, such as history or math, phenomenon-based learning teaches by topic, event, or phenomenon.

Phenomenon-based learning uses a multidisciplinary approach, in which several subjects are learned together to help solve a global problem or answer a real-world question. To answer a question about the spread of Covid-19 for example, students might need to study math, science, geography, and economics. If the students have a question about the Olympic Games, students might want to learn about the origin of the Olympics, nationalities of Olympic athletes, or the speed or height of athletes in action. As students research the answers, they’ll make connections across disciplines, such as history, geography, languages, science and math.

Phenomenon-based learning starts with students thinking of a real-world issue or a phenomenon that intrigues them. A student may ask, “What keeps a bridge from collapsing?” or “Why do we need money?” Then, with teacher guidance, students study the subjects necessary to answer the question or solve the problem. This method gives meaning and context to the topic. It also helps to sharpen students’ critical thinking skills.

In Finland, students aged 7-16 must participate in at least one phenomenon-based learning module per year. But PhenoBL can benefit learners of all ages. In fact, businesses are using PhenoBL with their employees. The goal of phenomenon-based learning is to give students a broader, more nuanced understanding of concepts across disciplines, and enable them to transfer and apply their knowledge to new settings.

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