How are new technologies transforming education?

By Päivi Stenroos

The bright minds in the Education Tampere community are using new technologies to make learning and education more efficient – and fun. Meet WordDive for the future of language learning, see how Visuon helps you create immersive training contents and find out how innovation muscles are built in Tampere Region style by 3DStep.

Artificial intelligence is really going to revolutionise the way we learn languages, and Tampere-based company WordDive is driving the change. From the very beginning, the core idea of WordDive has been to optimise learning using the strengths of Finnish education, mobile know-how and artificial intelligence.

– With our app, the AI optimises exercises for every user individually. It can tell what you’ve already learned and also what is hard for you, and proceeds accordingly, says WordDive CEO Timo-Pekka Leinonen.

Timo-Pekka Leinonen, CEO of WordDive. Photo by WordDive.

Today WordDive offers a selection of 10 languages for users in 150 countries. Coming up next: they are harnessing AI to give individual feedback on oral language skills, first for the learners of English.

– Our app will then recognise pronunciation errors and helps correct them just like a private tutor would do. We have a patent pending in the US and a beta version available soon, explains Leinonen (as of June 2020).

Reading and writing are important skills when learning a new language, but fluent speaking is crucial. And to speak, most of us need a lot of practice and someone to tell us when and how we could do better. The WordDive team decided to try if this could be done in a scalable way – to provide a private tutor for every smartphone. The prototype was made in 2017 with the local academia.

– Tampere University is very advanced in speech recognition, signal processing and artificial intelligence. In cooperation with the university, WordDive has become a real deep tech company, and we now have our own AI team, too, Leinonen says.

It is hard work to teach the neural network to cope with the real world, but WordDive is making steady progress. The point of a mobile language learning app is adaptability: it is available anytime and anywhere. If you’ve got a moment, you can study. All you need is your phone and the app – and this means there are all kinds of devices and background noises for the system to deal with.

While artificial intelligence makes language learning more efficient and flexible, it won’t make it unnecessary. Machines do translate, and it is sometimes very handy, but in a global world a common language is always needed to build trust.

– Think about employment, for example. The best people get hired, no matter where they come from, but they need language skills. Learning a language is a way to show your motivation and competence, Leinonen says.

Photo by WordDive

The future is visual

A new task to learn and new machines to operate? You’ll probably need to read the manuals, but more and more often you’ll be watching videos or working with interactive visual content. Tampere-based company Visumo offers a visual training tool Visuon that uses 360° Virtual Reality technology.

– With our tool it is possible to let people make virtual visits to e.g. workplaces, production lines or laboratories and train for work and safety. All they need is a smartphone and a link provided by their trainer, says Visumo CEO Jarmo Tanskanen.

It is a sensible choice to use immersive visual materials for training. Humans are often sight-oriented, and that’s why virtual tours help them navigate new environments. Visuals will also draw interest and thus encourage learning. An end user who enjoys learning will certainly perform more effectively!

Photo by Visuon

For a teacher or trainer Visuon is an easy-to-use tool for content creation. It is possible to create a presentation in half an hour, publish it, share the link and there you go: your chosen target group can start their training. But even with the new technologies, teachers are still essential.

– A tool will never make human teaching skills obsolete, quite the opposite. Educators know how to create appropriate content that speaks to their target groups, says Tanskanen.

Tanskanen himself is an educator and developer of educational technologies since the 90’s and keeps a close eye on the new edtech-related opportunities. His aim: to make learning more sensible – and more fun. A bit less than decade ago he started to outline visual solutions.

– Now we are in a situation where technologies are mature enough to allow us to produce smoothly running visual content for smartphones and mobile connections, Tanskanen says.

Visuon tool is cloud-based, hence scalable and available as a Saas product globally. Visuon provides the tool and the user is free to explore the ideas for gamified, interactive content: employers to train their staff, teachers to teach or organisations to inform their customers.

New techs, new paths of thinking

When customers open discussions with 3DStep, the question is often about 3D printing and how to apply it in a specific product. 3DStep, based in Ylöjärvi (near Tampere) offers the full range of additive manufacturing services for all industries. They have a big interest in industry transformation and learning processes.

– Very often our customers end up on a new path of thinking and understand that there are bigger things to do than just making one product or component, says 3DStep CEO Pekka Ketola

3DStep and it’s sister company Ideascout will both provide training on innovation and new technologies that’ll help companies to keep up with the changing world. There are always new skills to learn, but what’s more important according to Ketola, is to understand why a company wants to learn certain skills and technologies. There must be a well-thought-out strategy behind the learning or vision about the future.

– Let’s consider 3D printing. If you want to apply 3D printing, you might consider the possibilities of distributed manufacturing or 3D printed spare parts, new logistics, production, quality control and similar areas. Learning to design a 3D printable product is not enough in most cases, Ketola says.

’Innovation muscle’ is something Ketola likes to refer to. For him, innovation capability in a company is just like a muscle – if you want to keep it fit, you need a healthy variety of beneficial exercises. Versatility is good for it, so go for a multidisciplinary approach.

– For example, we are participating in an ambitious research consortium led by the Tampere University. With a really wide variety of new technologies it is exploring ways to use patient specific medical imaging data – and and use it simultananeously for many purposes, such as training and tool development, Ketola says.

The concept of continuous learning means you have to keep expanding your knowledge and searching for inspiration, observe the horizon and combine various threads of information. In Leonardo da Vinci’s days a genius could do that, nowadays – and in 3DStep projects – a superteam is gathered for the purpose. Their tool is to think and innovate together.

– In the world of 3D printing people all around the world are eager to team up, help each other, give and receive knowledge. It’s not about pouring information into each other’s brains but co-creation of new things, says Ketola.