Category Archives: Teaching

Revitalizing Primary and Secondary Education in Russia

Last weekend I was a speaker/panelist at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on the subject of Revitalizing Primary and Secondary Education in Russia. Learning outcomes in Russia are rather uncompetitive when seen from an international perspective. I was also surprised to hear that schools in many urban areas run two shifts a day due to a lack of capacity.

Although Sanoma Learning is not currently directly active on the Russian market, we were interested to contribute to the discussion. Firstly, because we believe that education is one of the most powerful instruments known for developing individual talent, reducing poverty and inequality and for laying the basis for sustained economic growth, sound governance and effective institutions across the globe. And secondly since we might be able to contribute to improving Russian learning outcomes in the future.

What can Russia learn from our experience?

I was asked what Russia could learn from our experience. I cannot claim to be an expert on Russian education. However, we are an integral player in a number of education systems that consistently perform very well – including Finland, The Netherlands and Belgium. In addition we are the market leader in Poland which has been one of the rising stars on outcomes in recent years. And we have recently acquired a position in Sweden and are keen to support teachers in raising learning outcomes there too.

On the basis of our experience in these successful systems, we believe there are three cornerstones of excellence in primary and secondary education.

1. Skilled and motivated teachers

The first cornerstone is to make sure the level of skills and motivation of teachers is high. A skilled teacher is like a great leader – the impact is huge. They are the heroes and heroines of education. For example, this means:
a. Getting the best people to apply to teacher training
b. Paying them adequately
c. Making sure they are treated with respect, both in school and in society
d. Not over-managing them – they are professionals. Give them space to run their classes without too many rules
e. Making sure they have access to good learning and teaching materials and are free to choose them based on their professional insights. State-prescribed and created materials tend to lead to lower standards and reduced motivation for teachers
f. Keeping their skills up-to-date.

2. Motivated pupils

The second cornerstone is to ensure that pupils are motivated. The correlation between motivation and outcomes is high. This includes:
a. As described above, recruiting and retaining good teachers who can motivate pupils and classes
b. Promoting equity. It’s important to support poorly-performing students and students in economically less advantaged areas. Furthermore, to include marginalized pupils such as those with special needs or from diverse backgrounds and minorities in the mainstream. Their education should be well resourced. It will significantly improve their life chances and lead to better overall outcomes
c. Ensuring that education is valued in society. Amongst others, this will encourage parents to support learning, and this will raise expectations which typically raises outcomes too
d. Finding ways to personalise the process of learning, for example by using technology, or ensuring the teacher has time for individual intervention, or by providing access to tutors. Personalisation improves engagement and better engagement tends to lead to improved outcomes
e. Using high quality learning materials, that both pupils and teachers appreciate.

3. High quality learning solutions

We believe that the third cornerstone to excellence in education is to provide teachers and pupils with high quality learning solutions. They can make a significant contribution to achieving excellent learning outcomes, in a time- and cost-effective manner, whilst keeping pupils and teachers engaged on the journey of learning. Such solutions could include the following elements (for some parts depending on the ICT status of the school):

a. Close “fit” with the local curriculum, language, culture and ways
b. Excellent instructional design
c. Good user experience
d. Play multichannel
e. Capture data and can give insights, and on that basis can be personalisable and adaptive
f. Deploy a coherent learning path and design – easy to use for both pupil and teacher
g. The teacher should have a high level of freedom to choose from a competitive offering – to find the solution that fits them and their class best.

Our beliefs

So those are our beliefs about the cornerstones of creating excellent education systems. There is probably not a single approach that can be copied and pasted across the globe. But the chances are good that most education systems (including Russia) would benefit by focusing on skilled teachers, motivating pupils and providing high quality learning solutions.

Back to the Future of Learning

future of learningThis week I have returned to Sanoma Learning as CEO, succeeding Jacques Eijkens who established and has led the development of the company during the last eight years. Great job Jacques! It’s an honour to be given this opportunity. I have a big respect for the teams and what they have achieved so far and believe I can bring digital and innovation experience that can help us on the journey to the next era.

Education is at the dawn of a new age

Stakeholders rightly want to renew education: they have new and higher demands on outcomes, personalisation and ways of working in particular.  We’re at the dawn of a new age for education – and technology will be a key enabler of the transformation. Today, Sanoma Learning is a successful provider of educational resources and has excellent customer focus, skilled people, strong brands and good financial health. Yet today’s strength does not guarantee tomorrow’s success. I believe that by supporting pupils and teachers with digital personalised-learning solutions, Sanoma Learning can have a major positive impact on the transformation of education. We are well-positioned as we continue on the journey to the digital future, but our success will be determined by how markets for learning solutions evolve and how effectively we manage the digital transformation.

Further renewing our offering will be key

Our main priority in the coming years will be to further renew our offering. In our core markets, we will focus on the digital transformation: digitalising courses, adding workflow functionalities and using data to support workflow, guide personalisation and improve learning outcomes. We also have the ambition to build a position in online tutoring, thereby further personalising the learning experience and creating new possibilities for growth. And we intend to build a position in emerging markets, leveraging and increasing the impact of our learning solutions and opening up new revenue streams. At this moment in time, we are making good progress in our core markets and are at the early stage of developing new home-grown ventures in online tutoring and emerging markets.

Learning about Learning

Today is my first day in the new role and I will start by visiting the units to engage with the teams – I’m enthusiastic about getting to know the people and to understand the opportunities and plans for the future. I will be keen to support and accelerate the development agenda and for Sanoma Learning to play a pivotal role in the transformation of education. I’m really looking forward to working with the teams on this great opportunity!

Flipping 2.0

flipping 2.0I’m curious about how we can ‘personalize’ learning: how can we help each individual learner to best develop their talents?

‘Flipped learning’ has caught my attention as one potential route, characterized by a more student-centric classroom, higher-level thinking as a goal, and good use of face-to-face interaction between students and teachers.

For this reason I recently read Flipping 2.0: Practical Strategies for Flipping Your Class, compiled by Jason Bretzmann, with authors contributing to sections on 1) Flipping in the core content areas, 2) Can anybody flip? and 3) Just for teachers.

I would like to recommend this book to teachers interested in flipping their classrooms and to other creators of educational resources looking to support personalized learning. I thought it was surprisingly accessible and there were three things I particularly appreciated about it:

1. Expert

All of the contributors have in-depth and first-hand experience of transitioning to a flipped classroom and describe that transformation clearly.  I thought the cases were helpful and real-world descriptions of the benefits and pitfalls. This is not a book of idealized concepts written by hands-off consultants but a very credible “how-to” handbook.

2. Practical

I especially liked the practical nature of the book. Amongst others, it’s a great resource for working out which technical resources might work best for teachers and students. There’s a lot of useful practical advice on creating learning materials, engaging students and dealing with challenges connected with flipped learning such as access to technology.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

3. Passion for teaching and learning

I love it when people are passionate about what they do. The contributors to this work share a passion for teaching and learning and that oozes through the pages. You feel throughout the book that they are striving to be great teachers and are constantly looking for ways to excel and improve in that role. Respect!

By the end of the book I personally wanted to create my own lessons and I’m not even a teacher! Apart from thinking how we could support the flipped classroom at Sanoma Learning, it also made me wonder if I could use some of these learnings in my own job. Somehow a ‘flipped board meeting’ doesn’t sound quite right :-), yet we do say that we want to spend less time going through powerpoint slides and more time on discussing and improving the strategies. Worth an experiment …