Education and occupation e-resoruces in Finland (EdOcFin)

Published on: 31/05/2007
Document national portal - assembles all information about post-elementary education and occupations - provides people and intermediaries with information about educational opportunities - encourages people to study and use information independently. The portal was created as information on the Internet was sparse, fragmented and mainly expert oriented. Opintoluotsi has enhanced awareness of the multiple opportunities people have throughout their lives. It has become a tool for counselling professionals. It has contributed to customer orientation and transcending administrational boundaries. The portal was set up by the Ministry of Education and implemented by the University of Helsinki Palmenia Centre for Continuing Education.

Policy Context

Opintoluotsi pursues individual learning throughout life by providing people with the understanding of their multiple study opportunities. Doing this the national Opintoluotsi portal implements the following policies: Educational policies by the Finnish Ministry of Education since 2002 to: - promote educational equality - increase public participation in educational opportunities - improve the appropriate use of student places - support young people who have difficulties in finding a student place - improve the chances of adults to continue their education. The Finnish Information Society Policy Program since 2003 to: - improve competitiveness and productivity - promote social and regional equality - improve citizens' well-being and quality of life through effective use of information and communications technologies. The above mentioned policies follow closely the Lisbon strategy. Opintoluotsi implements distinctly its aspect of learning economy or knowledge-based economy with sustainability and social cohesion. This means providing the service on the Internet freely for everybody and presenting all information and choices as equal. No individual need stated nor any education offered is discriminated.

Description of target users and groups

Opintoluotsi is aimed at citizens in the first hand, but it also serves public and private intermediaries. Opintoluotsi has proved in practice that what serves citizens well, serves also professionals in need of the same information. The web service is targeted at all citizens looking for information on post-elementary education (degrees, further education, hobbies) taught in Finnish, Swedish or English in Finland, be they in Finland or abroad. The target group of citizens consists of for example (rounded off figures) - 67 000 students of the last year of elementary school (2006) - 118 000 upper secondary school students (2005) - 231 000 vocational school students (2004) - 133 000 vocational high school students (2006) - 177 000 university students (2006) - 1,7 million adult education students (2006) - 17 768 foreign students (2005) - 22 450 immigrants (2006). The group of 15-64 year old Finns, any of whom may seek education information acutely in some phase of their lives, was about 3,5 million in 2006 in Finland. The group of intermediaries consists of three sectors (rough estimations). - 2 300 guidance and guidance and counseling professionals in the public sector, 1500 working at schools and 800 for the Ministry of Labour - 3 000 human resources professionals in the private sector - 4 200 persons working in public libraries (2005) which in Finland serve as free sources of versatile information, such as education, for the public.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The stakeholder networking strategy has been implemented throughout the six years of development: - Opintoluotsi editorial board in 2007: Opintoluotsi, Ministry of Labour, the National Board of Education - an advisory board of 12 public organizations to discuss issues on development of the services - sharing experience with other teams and organizations - creating information and services in everyday interaction with relevant organizations. Administration of the development project is guided by ESF regulations: - The development is guided by the pre-study, ESF application and a brand guided development strategy - 12 month development cycles with clear and concrete goals that include defined deliverables - Projects needed to produce the deliverables are planned. Implementation project steps include - Project planning - Pre-study - Specifying requirements - A request for tender, selecting a subcontractor - Deliverables design - Deliverables implementation. Well-established implementation project management methods include change request process, risk assessment and version based documentation. Steering group hierarchy supports the development projects: - The steering group for the ESF project - A networking group for stakeholder interaction - A coordinating working group: technical development and security issues - A coordinating working group: marketing and communications activities - Steering groups for large projects. Multi-channel issues: Opintoluotsi has an up-to-date channel strategy. Availability is pursued by branding and extensive marketing. The impact of marketing is measured by web statistics and studies on renownedness. Accessibility is sought for by guaranteeing 24/7 access to the web server, creating accessibility guidelines and providing a text based version. Usability is striven through extensive user testing in different phases of planning and design as well as usability testing before online publishing. Multi-channel aspects of communication with users have been thoroughly analysed. Opintoluotsi is purely an on-line service with a help desk to be contacted by email and web form. The help desk questions are answered by the editorial staff and also forwarded to a network of study counsellors from several organisations: Social Insurance Institution of Finland, Centre for International Mobility, Ministry of Labour’s National Help Line, among others. Pre-studies on possibilities to utilise mobile interfaces and digital TV have been executed. A text version makes mobile usage possible in the future. Digital TV integration was not executed due to unsubstantial usage prospects. The portal presents information created by other organisations using both systems integration and web page linking. Systems integrations to the databases of the Finnish National Board of Education and the Finnish News Agency have enabled information reuse in a user friendly interface. The technical design of Opintoluotsi uses open and standardised interfaces allowing future integrations and semantic web applications to be developed to exploit Opintoluotsi’s databases. Linking to other web services is extensive. Opintoluotsi, therefore, provides a platform reaching a wide audience for information by other organisations, such as the Ministry of Labour and the Finnish National Board of Education. Opintoluotsi has an innovative and manageable approach to categorizing information. Therefore automatic linking with other services can be enabled. Much effort is put on making extensive link administration cost-efficient.

Main results, benefits and impacts

Inquiries by Opintoluotsi prove main user groups recognize Opintoluotsi as a central source of information: - 82,3% of study counselors and employment service staff use regularly Opintoluotsi, the most exploited national portal, ahead of which in popularity are only individual educational institutions’ sites (2006) - 90% of new users regard Opintoluotsi an easy-to-use, impartial and reliable source which they will use again, nearly 90% think its is an efficient way to find information, almost 80% find it encouraging to apply for a study place (2005-2006) - 41,7% of secondary school students use Opintoluotsi to support decisions on further studies (2006). Usage statistics show that Opintoluotsi is well known, established and widely used. In 2006 Opintoluotsi had over 543.000 visitors, making over 3.374.000 page requests. In January 2007 Opintoluotsi had nearly 60.000 unique users, making nearly 500.000 page requests. The result is respectable considering studies concern only acutely in specific phases of life. The growing numbers of visitors are proven, as each January during 2004-2007: 25 119, 48 811, 49 812, 56 379. Opintoluotsi has received noteworthy recognition and awards: - mentioned as the most important Finnish educational on-line resource in a program proposal by the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Education (2006) - a national reference and good practice at EU Conference on Adult Learning, Competence and Active Citizenship (2006) - an example of citizen centered design in a public online service environment, WSIS - World Summit on the Information Society (2005) - the best public portal in Finland. Ministry of Finance Quality Prize (2004) - a good practice example of how to inspire adults to take up education. OECD (2003) - the adult educator of the year. The Finnish Guild of Adult Education (2002). As the best public Finnish portal in 2004 Opintoluotsi’s implementation and maintenance activities were regarded as exemplary: - service is easy to use, fast, content relevant, interesting and well laid out - development well managed - exemplary marketing - user feedback well exploited in development - security issues well addressed - content and content management well planned and documented - usefulness and user satisfaction measured with user surveys. Opintoluotsi has strongly influenced related Finnish web services: - Opintoluotsi is heavily quoted and linked by other web services introducing education information -, the occupation service by the Ministry of Labour will link purely to Opintoluotsi in education matters. The unaccomplished report on impact evaluation of Opintoluotsi in 2006, produced through extensive user questionnaires, inquiries and interviews of interest groups, concludes: - end users: education information is more readily available and comparing of study opportunities easier - study counselors: the tool makes counseling more productive - has promoted the use of Internet among education professionals - has had a positive impact on the quality of education information available on the Internet - has influenced administrational decisions - The Opintoluotsi web service is regarded versatile, reliable, comprehensive and useable and more user friendly than corresponding web services on education. The impact of Opintoluotsi is permanent in the field of education: - the web service will be maintained after the end of the ESF funded development project under the administration of the Ministry of Education - Opintoluotsi is a mandatory information repository in study and employment counselors’ education - the web service is increasingly introduced in personnel education by the Ministry of Labour - education and job market related information is created and delivered transcending administrational boundaries - The Opintoluotsi editorial board pulls together the main producers of related web services: the Ministry of Labour, the National Board of Education and the Opintoluotsi producer. Innovation: Opintoluotsi strives to make information about study opportunities easy to understand, interesting and motivating. Information is found easily because Opintoluotsi is clear, comprehensible and extensive. Opintoluotsi excels in putting great effort on surveying the need for collecting the dispersed information and on user engagement in the portal design and development. The methods include - pre-studies on education information display, search and utilization - online user inquiries - studies on renownedness of the portal among the population - usability and accessibility tests - user feedback analyses - exploiting a user panel to resolve design issues. Opintoluotsi is exceptional as a branded public service – widely acknowledged. The customer oriented design principle is explicated in a brand strategy based on the studied user needs and market analysis. It guides content creation, visual presentation, communication and marketing. The brand core implies “Anything is possible”. The brand promises are implemented in the service development. Implementation lies on a service concept based on the brand. Requirement specifications are derived from the service concept. The brand strategy enabled creating an extensive communications and marketing strategy. To build the brand Opintoluotsi has pursued to reach citizens. One of the several on-line campaigns earned first prize in the on-line campaign category of the Grand One competition. Supporting radio and TV-campaigns have built initial interest on the service. Besides the general population, marketing efforts have been targeted towards specific user and interest groups. Opintoluotsi challenges customary ways of action. It strives cooperation by transcending administrational boundaries and pulling together actors from different web development projects to bridge information in a user interface for citizens. It is a forerunner in combining information about ecudation and occupation, facts with guidance and inspiring content, information about degrees with that of further education and hobbies. Opintoluotsi encourages independent search and decision making.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

Opintoluotsi has shared knowledge in diverse special occasions and ways: - an Opintoluotsi best practice seminar (2006) for public organizations with over 150 participants from nearly 80 organizations - an anniversary seminar (2003) and a research report publication seminar (2004) for public organizations with about 60 representatives - frequent invited speeches and presentations, also abroad, 25 cases in 2006 - research reports, results of inquiries and clarifications are shared on the site - by being benchmarked: marketing and communication, user follow-up, maintenance tool, help desk - presentations and publicity due to public recognition. Members from other organizations have been called to - the Opintoluotsi editorial board (2007): the Ministry of Labour, the National Board of Education - the Opintoluotsi guidance cooperation group (2004): eight organizations such as the Ministry of Labour, the Centre for International Mobility CIMO and the National Board of Education - the Opintoluotsi immigrant working group (2003): six organizations such as the International Cultural Centre Caisa and CIMO. Opintoluotsi has memberships in other organizations’ - working groups developing the web service about occupation information by the Ministry of Labour and the education information database by the National Board of Education - editorial staff of, a portal about public services by the Ministry of Finance, and of, a portal about health information and services by the National Public Health Institute - executive group of FinnONTO, a National Semantic Web Ontology Project by a consortium of 30 public organizations, the Helsinki University of Technology and the University of Helsinki. As a result Opintoluotsi is an established actor among public web services and a central player among education and labour information services. The maintenance and further development of Opintoluotsi is done in day-to-day collaboration transcending administrational boundaries. Opintoluotsi has significantly impacted the stake holding organizations' work and services.

Lessons learnt

The three lessons are applicable and especially useful for portals with lots of links and text: - Customer oriented design, content delivery and process for developing a public web service - Collaboration transcending administrational boundaries - Branding a public service. Customer oriented design, content delivery and process for developing a public web service include for example - specifying the main customer, studying his needs and use of information - exploiting user questionnaires, user panels, user feedback analyses and usage follow-up, - defining the service concept - designing user interface and content architecture, testing usability and accessibility - specifying the style of speech and terminology - planning the networking strategy. Collaboration transcending administrational boundaries needs for example the following - explicating the main needs for co-operation - pinpointing the suitable organizations - establishing and negotiating the points of mutual benefit - defining information structures and technical solutions that enable systems integration - specifying reuse of information and manageable linking between web services. Branding a public service involves for instance the following - analyzing the market - defining the brand strategy, core and promises - designing the visual expression for the brand - planning the communication and marketing strategy. Scope: National