Aging is global phenomenon. More people reach the age of 90 years and over. For example in Finland, the number of people over 65-year-olds will increase from the current 20% to 26% by 2030 and to 29% by 2060. In the Netherlands, the estimates are equivalent with current 19%, 23% in 2030 and 27% by 2060. This means that on the European level, we have more and more older adults whose health and functional capacity vary greatly.  Some part of this age group of older adults have good health and functional ability to do what they want on a daily basis. The other part of the same age group suffers multimorbidity and their level of functional ability is very low. In addition, they need help from family members or other voluntary assistants and their use of health care services is immense.

The World Health Organization’s Decade of Healthy Aging (2020-2030) brings together different organizations and professionals that work with older adults. In addition, educators often collaborate to collate development and teaching on aging topics.  Along with the recognition of the change in demographics, teaching on ageing phenomenon must be increased in higher education.  

In this aging world, more professionals should be educated.  In rehabilitation, it is important to improve the knowledge and skills of future health care professionals, in working with older adults. In physiotherapy, it is essential to understand the normal aging process, meaning of functional ability and different diseases. After that, students are able to understand the older adults’ varying contexts that are characterized by simultaneous changes in health status, chronic diseases, and functional difficulties. Even more, they must understand the multi-dimensionality of frailty in older adults and be aware of the fact that an interdisciplinary and holistic approach is necessary to reach the most optimal, effective and efficient treatment results. Using that understanding, students can plan the rehabilitation process with older adults and put it into action.

The new global classroom collaboration: “The best aging education”

The global classroom is a new way to collaborate in education, development work and research between universities. Through this global classroom collaboration, we facilitate the combination of synchronous online and on-site face-to-face education in Finland and the Netherlands. The global classroom offers lecturers and students the possibility to bring your class, real-time, into contact with another classroom or speaker. For example, students can ask questions from the lecturer or the other group of students. The global classroom usually has a digital whiteboard with two screens. You can use one digital screen to present your lesson. On the other screen you can, for example, show the image of the other class or the speaker. In the global classroom, you can use, for example, Blackboard Collaborate or Microsoft Teams, to connect with a speaker or another class.

It requires another didactical approach compared to face-to-face education or online education. As a lecturer, you need to monitor and differentiate two groups (one face-to-face and one online) simultaneously. Many of us have cold feet to start with. The best way is to often just do it. At the same time, as long as we have travel restrictions, it gives us the possibility to continue international cooperation and virtual staff exchange. It will, even post-Covid19, remain a useful tool in the light of sustainability (reduction of travel).

The Hanze University of Applied Sciences and Savonia University of Applied Sciences started global classroom collaboration in the spring 2020 with a vision of achieving “The best aging education”. The main aim is to increase international collaboration between rehabilitation students. In addition, the idea is to share knowledge and different perspectives related to the aging phenomenon. Our first step in collaboration was implementing virtual classroom lectures. Both universities share lecturers for rehabilitation students. Students in the Master’s degree programme in Rehabilitation at Savonia University of Applied Sciences and students in the Minor programme Healthy at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, participate in these lectures. 

This first collaboration action included two lectures: (1) Frailty: a complex phenomenon and (2) Ageing in Finland – home and family care and home rehabilitation-What do we need to measure? During the lecturers, students were able to ask questions and participate in the discussion. There was positive feedback from the students, for example: “It was interesting to listen to the lecturer in English and note that I am able to understand the lecture.” “Lecturers gave me new knowledge.” In addition, the students created new ideas, for example: “Including the lecturers, there might be some activities for the students to do together… maybe during or after the lectures.” The feedback was that we should have more lecturers, like Hans and Marja, following this innovative approach. With the upcoming changes in the two international programmers, we now encourage the designers of the modules to make more use of the global classroom principle.

The global Covid19 situation has changed teaching methods and brought together teachers, professional workers and higher educators around the world, extremely fast. Today, virtual classrooms are the main highway of teaching. This will push teachers to collaborate even more. This way, students will gain excellent learning possibilities and increase their skills and knowledge. These skills and knowledge will be needed in the future when they develop rehabilitation of older adults.


Marja Äijö PT, PhD, Principal Lecturer in Gerontology and Rehabilitation, Savonia University of Applied Sciences

Hans Hobbelen PT, PhD, Professor in Ageing and Allied Healthcare Research group Healthy Ageing, Allied Health Care and Nursing Centre of Expertise Healthy Ageing Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen, The Netherlands
President of the International association of Physiotherapists working with Older People (IPTOP, official subgroup WCPT) 

Henk Willemsen, MLI, RPT, Comenius Senior Fellow, University Lecturer Internationalisation and Policy Advisor, School of Health Care Studies, Hanze University of Applied Sciences


World Health Organization’s The Decade of Healthy Aging (2020-2030). Available in the Internet:

Active aging and collaborative teaching


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