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Arcusys offers digital tools to help inhabit Mars

Finnish Arcusys has developed a digital learning platform Valamis that offers a social learning environment where analytics tools monitor everything from content creation and interactive lessons to peer reviews and digital exams.istock.com/beresnev

The transformation of digital learning seems to be the next success story for Finnish education and technology company Arcusys is already making it happen.

Arcusys* knows what a learning curve is. In 13 years the company has transformed from an idea by four unemployed friends to one of the fastest growing tech companies in Finland with 110 employees and a collaboration with US space agency NASA. A big part of the credit goes to Arcusys’ focus on the digitalisation of learning.

“Previously digital learning meant taking traditional classroom teaching and moving it online,” says Jussi Hurskainen, Arcusys CEO and co-founder. “However the ‘digitalisation of learning’ means getting measurable data from every single learning experience. Teachers get real-time information on what people have learnt.”

Consequently deep analytics form the core of Arcusys’ digital learning platform Valamis. The platform, launched in 2010, offers a social learning environment where analytics tools monitor everything from content creation and interactive lessons to peer reviews and digital exams. The data is used to create a personalised learning path for each student.

“Previously you could see if someone has completed a course, now we can see whether a specific page has been read,” explains Hurskainen. “We can detect early if someone is not using the materials and offer help; and teachers can better support both those who risk falling behind and those who already know the topic well.”

This approach can be tailored for various educational purposes across schools and universities as well as companies for professional certifications and sales training.

Speaking to space

In addition to analytics, Arcusys is also deeply committed to researching new pedagogical methods. In particular the company is advocating ‘phenomenon-based learning’, a method widely used in Finland, where teaching is built around real-life events instead of individual, disconnected subjects. The goal is to increase students’ learning motivation, effectiveness and problem solving skills.

“For instance, in a vocational school the phenomenon could be buying a car. The material teaches how a car works and car ownership, but at the same time the student learns how loans and interest rates work,” Hurskainen says. “You learn many things simultaneously without thinking you are studying physics, mathematics and economics.”

This method is also applied to something more extraterrestrial. A new door opened to Arcusys a year ago when contacts at the University of New York wanted to introduce the company to NASA. The meeting was a success and led to collaboration with the space agency to create a global learning and research environment for astronauts, academics and students interested in space science.

Arcusys employs 110 people in its headquarters in Joensuu, Eastern Finland, and other offices in Oulu, Lappeenranta, Helsinki, Petrozavodsk in Russia and Boston in the US. Image: Jussi Ratilainen

The first step in the collaboration uses Valamis to digitalise and expand NASA’s ‘Epic Challenge’ education program. Traditionally the program was conducted in classrooms to encourage interest in space sciences by solving epic problems, such as sustainable habitation of Mars.

“NASA has had good results, but it also wanted to try this online and involve people from different continents,” says Hurskainen. “We helped them find partners in Joensuu [Eastern Finland] and students, from high schools to university level, to research issues like growing plants on Mars and how virtual reality can support astronauts in space.”

A group of Finnish students even got an opportunity of a lifetime to virtually meet astronaut Timothy Kopra, who answered questions via a video stream straight from the International Space Station (ISS).

Now Arcusys is working with NASA to digitally expand Epic Challenge programme firstly to universities across Finland and then internationally.

Educational superpower

The NASA partnership reflects the growth of Arcusys. While most of its current customers are Finnish companies, universities and public institutions, 80 per cent of new business comes from elsewhere in Europe and the US.

Reflecting this Arcusys opened its first US office in March last year and has found interest in Finland’s well regarded education system to be a particular door opener.

“In many countries people want to see if some of it can be implemented in their country,” Hurskainen confirms.

Alongside its international plans Arcusys is working on the further development of Valamis. The company has already trialled augmented reality and Hurskainen believes the next big trend in education, for both school and enterprise environments, will be social (peer) learning. This will see the role of top-down information reduced as students are encouraged to discuss and research topics together.

“We want to help to change how people are educated and bring phenomenon-based thinking and digitalisation to learning everywhere,” Hurskainen concludes.

Valamis platform combines advanced analytics and new pedagogical methods from gamification to phenomenon-based learning. Image: Tuomas Kinnunen

*Known as Valamis since 2018

By: Eeva Haaramo