SmartVille project: how to succeed in the implementation of team learning method?

As one of the ambitious goals for Developing Sustainable and Entrepreneurial Villages through Educational Living Labs in Namibia and Zambia (SmartVille) project is to increase practical entrepreneurial skills by offering both formal and informal education in entrepreneurship by team learning method, the learning environment must be monitored intensively (LAB 2024).

While using team learning as a learning method, students are collaborating in groups learning from one another while working with case studies and project work with real customer projects. When working in teams, it is inevitable that students will encounter varying opinions from fellow group members. The role of the lecturer becomes very important when effectively establishing a learning environment where everyone feels secure enough to voice their opinions. The lecturer can be seen more like a coach that guides the students in their studies instead of the traditional authoritarian teacher. (Ekman 2024a)

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Image 1. Respect: an important factor in the process of building a positive, psychologically safe environment. (Image: Mia Ekman)

Creating a positive learning environment

Throughout history, it has been observed that emotions are inconsequential when it comes to learning. Instead, the emphasis was placed on the substance being learned and the necessary skills related to the substance. Emotions were seen as a distraction in the process of learning, slowing the learning process down.  However, recent studies show that a psychologically safe and positive environment has a positive impact on the productivity of learners. (Lonka 2015)

After participating in a team learning session at LAB University of Applied Sciences, it became apparent that a positive learning environment empowers students to freely express their opinions and “speak from the heart” without the fear of being insulted by fellow group members. Dialogue as an approach helps students to learn from each other by listening and accepting different opinions (Ekman 2024b). Respect for one another is a critical factor enabling the learning environment to be positive and psychologically safe.  Not only is spoken language present, but attention is paid equally to the emotions and meanings for what is said and how during the team learning session.

A positive, psychologically safe learning environment can be seen as a necessity for the implementation of the team learning method to succeed. Without a psychologically safe environment it might be impossible for the learners to adapt the team learning method. When implementing the team learning approach in the SmartVille project, it is crucial to consider students’ diverse cultural backgrounds and emotions. This attention is necessary to foster self-esteem, creativity, and an innovative entrepreneurial mindset among students.


Mia Ekman works as a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Business in LAB University of Applied Sciences. Currently works also as a project manager in the Developing Sustainable and Entrepreneurial Villages through Educational Living Labs in Namibia and Zambia (SmartVille) project.


Ekman, M.  2024a. SmartVille project partners visited LAB. LAB Focus. Cited 7 Apr 2024. Available at

Ekman, M. 2024b. Team learning: a method to tackle high unemployment rate in the rural parts of Namibia and Zambia? LAB Focus. Cited 7 Apr 2024. Available at

LAB. 2024. Developing Sustainable and Entrepreneurial Villages Through Educational Living Labs in Namibia and Zambia. Project websites. LAB University of Applied Sciences. Cited 7.4.2024. Available at

Lonka, K. 2015. Oivaltava oppiminen. Helsinki: Otava.