Connecting studying to personal values can enhance engagement in learning

The introduction text for the he topic 4 (’Design for online and blended learning’) stated that ”Enhancing community building and promoting student engagement and ownership in learning becomes essential for blended and online learning.” Consequently, I started to ponder what are factors and practices that support students’ engagement and ownership in learning. 

I teach about behavior change thus, focusing on questions such as how to support people in doing behavior changes, what predict successful changes and what are possible obstacles for change. Doing behavior changes is not easy, not even when a current problematic behavioral pattern cause evident harm and suffering for the person. Think, for example, smoking, unhealthy eating habits leading to serious illness, work addiction, obsessive hand-washing or physical inactivity. Changing these behaviors needs a strong engagement. One needs to be committed with the goals and activities; committed to do things that can feel difficult or to resist doing harmful behaviors even when feeling strong urges to do them. Commitment can be enhanced by linking the current choice to personal values. It is easier to choose an action that is in line with what one finds important and meaningful even when doing it would be hard and (emotionally) painful.

Accordingly, engagement with some goals, whether it is about learning new habits or learning new skills and knowledge, is always a matter of meaning and personal values.

Feeling engaged with some learning goals and activities is more or less explicitly connected with the questions, such as; “What is valuable for me?”,“How does my meaningful life looks like?”. And making a connection between the current goals and actions and values, thus asking a question; “What makes this course meaningful for me?”, “Why learning this is important to me?”, “ What consequences studying these things have in my life?”.

Integrating value-reflection to studying can enhance students’ engagement and ownership in learning. One study (Chase et al., 2013) showed that a simple task of asking students to reflect and write about their personally important educational values in addition to goal setting, significantly increased students’ academic performance, relative to a wait list, or to majors not responding to the invitation to participate in the study. Moreover, goal setting alone had no positive impact on academic performance. 

Accordingly, asking students, why would they put their time and effort on particular course, could make a big difference on their learning experience.

Reference: Chase, J. A., Houmanfar, R., Hayes, S. C., Ward, T. A., Vilardaga, J. P., & Follette, V. (2013). Values are not just goals: Online ACT-based values training adds to goal setting in improving undergraduate college student performance. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science2(3-4), 79-84.

Learning is sharing, sharing is caring!

As a researcher my work is about constantly learning new things. Whenever I master something, I move forward to the areas that provide me with new challenges. And something that I have learned in doing this is that learning is much more efficient and much more fun together. Research is not something that one should do alone.

During my PhD studies I worked in a lovely research environment where I had many people around with the same interest in the Contextual Behavioral Science and we all were eager to learn more. We had different project, but because they were all related to the same topic, we could benefit from each other’s work and a lot of good practices for collaboration was created naturally. We worked in a same place, so asking help and pondering things together were easy. We had weekly meetings to recap the process in different projects and to solve actual problems together.

In addition to my research group, I became a member of relatively young Association of Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) that connected scientist, clinicians and students from different countries. I appreciated the community’s attitude and practices in openly sharing expertise and aiming to develop the field in collaboration. Yearly conferences provided, not only a great portion of interesting knowledge, but also an important ingredient for all learning – a bunch of inspiration. Having a feeling of belonging to a wider community with the same or similar interest and seeing others’ work has been very important part of my learning experience. It has given a sparkle to the research work that, in some normal workdays, can be dull and boring.

During my postdoc, my collaborators were mainly working in different universities in different countries. Thus, my everyday working environment was not an ideal for learning and development. I can enjoy working alone and get fused to investigating new things on my own, but I got to notice that discussions with other researchers, often in a very unformal manner, are vitally important part of the research work. Often the best ideas are created in an unformal learning situations, such as having hours long lunch discussion with colleagues by sharing ideas and being challenged to think them thoroughly.

Nowadays, I have many different learning networks that I found extremely valuable, including near and distant colleagues, but also my students. Teaching is in many ways effective way to learn which makes it motivating for me. First of all, when I need to teach something for others, I really need make it clear for myself. Second, when students’ experiences, ideas and learning processes becomes shared, I learn a lot from the students and they can learn a lot from each other too. This is something that I would like to develop further and benefit more in my teaching, i.e., how students could learn in more collaborative ways so that it becomes more efficient and more meaningful, so that the learning experience would be shared and the development of collective understanding and development would be in focus. The lessons that I have learned in doing research are good guide in this, such as creating a sense of belonging to a community with shared interest, becoming inspired by others’ ideas and work and having fun in learning together.

Openness of education for a common good

For me the question about the openness of education and knowledge is a question of equality and a promotion of a common good. Coming from Finland, I have internalized an equality as a strong value. I see that education belongs to everybody and it is a way to build better society. 

In Finland, education has been free and available for everyone independent of family’s economic status. There are little differences between schools in Finland. People doesn’t need to consider which school to choose for their kids. Kids go to school that is closest to their home and  people from different economical classes have been living relatively evenly in different areas. 

Even university education is free and supported by the government. An idea about the education system that cost a lot of money for individuals and thus creates inequality between people feels freak and scary for me. It feels very sad to see Finland taking steps toward that direction, for example by introducing tuition fees for some international students and decreasing economic support for the students.

Considering my background, I cannot reflect the question of openness of education without thinking the values that are connected to the equal rights for everybody and a common good that can be achieved by educating people and sharing knowledge. Sharing knowledge openly feels effective and can help to fasten the development in different areas. Everybody doesn’t need to invent a wheel again, but learning can be seen as a  cumulative processes.

Principles of openness, sharing and collaboration for common good happens naturally in small groups where people share the same goals and benefits of collaboration are easily visible. In bigger groups and societies other competing values and forces are often complicating things. There comes more competition between individuals and groups which can be seen as a counterforce for equality and collaboration. Nowadays knowledge and education are important resources that are competed about. Unfortunately, this competition is often run by money. Education is having a price tag and not all people can afford it which creates inequality in more and less direct ways. 

Considering this global era that we live, including huge global problems and unforeseen challenges, education and an access to knowledge feels especially important. The crisis of Covid-19 has reminded us how we are all connected and how we need to find solutions together. Covid-19 has forced people all over the world to adjust their lives and forced people to make changes rapidly. One of these rapid changes is increased use of online environments, including teaching and learning environments. The familiarization with these technologies can have drastic changes in how we think and organize education. If more and more activities are taking place online, why would each school, university or a teacher produce their own materials, why should different teachers and institutions ‘invent a wheel again’, if there is an option to share materials and resources and benefit from each other’s work? It will be interesting to follow what will be the long term impact of Covid-19 to societies, including openness and collaboration in the field of education. Could this crises provoke new solutions for education that could allow more people to access knowledge and collaborate in an effective manner?

The experience of self in the digital age

People have always asked a question: Who am I? In less and more conscious ways we define our identities by identifying ourselves with some groups, characters and qualities. In addition our identities are formed by our values and ideals. Our role models becomes represented in ourselves, as ideas pointing the direction in life.

We define ourselves in the social context where we live. Who am I in relation to other people? What are my roles in social groups and communities? Digitalisation has radically changed the concept of social context. It is no more defined by the people that we meet in our physical environment or people with whom we have direct contact with.  Our social context is also formed by social profiles, and we may be influenced by persons that we have never even met. Who might not even be real persons. They could be identities created by a group of people with different agendas. It’s nothing new that our need to identify ourselves with characters that we value and characters that are valued in our social context are exploited for different purposes, such as marketing different products. Who wouldn’t by a product that promise you as a person to become more beautiful, attractive, healthy and happy? However, we are not only passive consumers in digital arenas. We are actively creating digital world, living inside it. Digital world being an inseparable part of our experience of reality including ourselves. 

I’m pregnant and waiting for my first child and that has evoked a lot of pondering about differences between generations. One of the biggest changes in my life as compared to my parents and grandparents has been digitalisation. Much has happened only during my life. I feel that even me and my 13 years younger sister are living in a partly different worlds. She has grown into the digital world whereas I still feel like I would be observing it outside  – perhaps that being just an illusion.  

When I try to think, what kind of world is my child facing, I feel like I would be investigating some new, weird planet. How is this digital age from kids perspective? What all is different for the kids nowadays as compared to my own childhood? Not to even try to predict what will happen during the next ten or twenty years when my child is growing up. For many reasons, I feel that I am in the beginning of the new and exciting journey where I will guide my child and she will guide me. But what comes to digital arenas and technological developments, I am well aware that at some point she will teach me more than I will teach for her. And it will be a challenge for me to be able understand possibilities and challenges that children face during this and coming digital age.

Digitalisation has changed the role of the parents, teachers and other close adults as role models for children and adolescent. At least in my stories of the old days, parents, teachers and other older people were perceived as a source of knowledge and information. They could tell stories about historical events and teach practical skills necessary for surviving. In a good and a bad, there were fewer role models for children, fewer ‘influencers’. Nowadays, internet provides totally different opportunities to find information and knowledge but also ingredients for formation of an identity. 

At the same time there exist a growing demand for building your identity in digital arenas. We need to be presented in different professional and personal medias. For most young people this is a natural part of their identity – building a profile to define who am I. In Finland, there has been a clear decreasing trend in an alcohol consumption within young people. One explanation, that I heard for this, was that young people are worried to post something stupid in social media, if they would be drunk. Thus, the costs of being out of control could be too high. This thought stopped me. I am pleased of the decreasing trend in an alcohol consumption, but at the same time I felt sad about the idea that people are so worried about an image that they give for other people about themselves. A worry of being judged by other people because of one post. Who are those people anyway? Friends, family members, just some idea of ‘other people’? 

Who are other people nowadays in relation to whom we answer the question “Who am I?”?

This makes me wonder, who are other people nowadays in relation to whom we answer the question “Who am I?”? And what are the skills that we, and especially children and adolescent, need for having a good and healthy relationship with themselves and others in this digital age?