phenomenon based learning


For designing, reflecting and  Leading phenomenon based learning


Re-thinking from Finland !


In Phenomenon Based Learning (PhenoBL) and teaching, holistic real-world phenomena provide the starting point for learning. The phenomena are studied as complete entities, in their real context, and the information and skills related to them are studied by crossing the boundaries between subjects. Phenomena are  holistic topics like human, European Union, media and technology, water or energy.The starting point differs from the traditional school culture divided into subjects, where the things studied are often split into relatively small, separate parts (decontextualisation).

Phenomenon-based structure in a curriculum also actively creates better  opportunities for integrating different subjects and themes as well as the systematic use of pedagogically meaningful methods, such as inquiry learning, problem-based  learning, project learning and portfolios. The phenomenon-based approach is also key in the versatile utilisation of different learning environments (e.g. in diversifying and enriching learning while using eLearning environments).

Deep learning and understanding are the goals
of phenomenon based learning

Phenomenon based learning starts from the shared observation of holistic, genuine real-world phenomena in the learning community. The observation is not limited to one single point of view; the phenomena are instead studied holistically from  different points of view, crossing the boundaries between subjects naturally and  integrating different subjects and themes.

In phenomenon based teaching, understanding and studying the phenomenon together starts from asking questions or posing problems (e.g. Why does an  aeroplane fly and stay up in the air?). At its best, phenomenon-based learning is  problem-based learning, where the learners build answers together to questions or problems posed concerning a phenomenon that interests them. The problems and questions have been posed by the learners together – they are things the learners are genuinely interested in.

The phenomenon-based approach is anchored learning, where the questions asked and issues to be learned are naturally anchored in real-world phenomena, and the information and skills to be learned can be directly applied across borders between subjects and outside the classroom in situations where the information and skills are used (natural transfer).

In the learning process, new information is always applied to the phenomenon or solving a problem, which means that the theories and information have immediate utility value that is already evident in the learning situation. For absorbing new information and deep learning, it is very important that the learners apply and use the information during the learning situation. Information learned only at the level of reading or theory (such as memorised physics formulas and calculation rules without real context or related problems) often remain superficial and separate details for the learners, without their gaining a comprehensive understanding of the  information (and the real-world phenomenon behind it) or internalising its meaning.

The phenomenon-based approach can significantly increase the authenticity of learning. In this context, the authenticity culminates in the learner’s cognitive processes (thinking processes) being authentic – in a learning situation, the learner’s cognitive processes therefore correspond to the cognitive processes required in the actual situation where the information/skills are used. Authenticity is a key requirement for the transfer and practical application of information. Often, it  has been said that “you cannot learn to drive a car just by using pen and paper” or that “cloze tests only teach answering cloze tests – there are no cloze tests in real life or working life, there are only real communication situations where information must be applied and messages must be transmitted comprehensively and understandably to another person”. In authentic learning, the aim is to bring genuine working life practices and processes into learning situations in a pedagogically structured way, when applicable, which allows the learner to participate in the real expert culture in the field and its practices (c.f. community of practice).

The learning theories and pedagogical models behind the phenomenon based learning

The starting point of phenomenon-based teaching is constructivism, in which learners are seen as active knowledge builders and information is seen as being constructed as a result of problem-solving, constructed out of ‘little pieces’ into a whole that suits the situation in which it is used at the time. When phenomenon based learning occurs in a collaborative setting (the learners work in teams, for example), it supports the socio-constructivist and sociocultural learning theories, in which information is not seen only as an internal element of an individual; instead, information is seen as being formed in a social context. Central issues in the sociocultural learning theories include cultural artifacts (e.g. systems of symbols such as language, mathematical calculation rules and different kinds of thinking tools) – not every learner needs to reinvent the wheel, they can use the information and tools transmitted by cultures.

In curricula, the phenomenon-based approach supports, in particular, learning in accordance with inquiry learning, problem-based learning and project and portfolio learning in educational institutions as well as their the practical implementation.


Learning starts with the goal of understanding real-world phenomena


Learners see utility value in the theories and information in the learning situation


The learners themselves can set interests and pose problems as starting points forthe

learning process


Phenomenon-based teaching is learner-centred; the learners are active creators and actors


The theoretical things to be learned are anchored in practical situations and phenomena


Authentic methods, sources and tools are used in the learning situation


Learning is a intentional, goal-oriented activity; the learners know the learning goals


Learning occurs in a real, holistic context (contextuality, c.f. individual, decontextualised and disconnected small tasks

as its opposite)


The learning process is a complete goal-oriented continuum