Are Teachers Planning Teaching or Learning?

Our first contact days for 2014 took place on January 20-22. On January 21, we had an interesting guest lecturer Mrs. Katri Aaltonen from the School of Vocational Teacher Education at HAAGA-HELIA who spoke about ‘Planning Teaching and Learning‘.

We started off using the method of silent discussion to create our collective mind-map based on the question “What is most challenging and difficult in planning? The method of silent discussion is an alternative to verbal discussion in class. It gives the opportunity to students who are not talk-active to participate by writing down their opinions on the board or a giant paper.

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During Aaltonen’s lecture I was thinking about my own pedagogical thinking behind planning my courses at HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences (UAS), how I structure my lecture materials and whether I plan my lessons from the point of view of students’ learning.

A few interesting questions highlighted by Aaltonen that teachers could ask themselves are:

• How active role your students do have?

• Is it possible to:

– Ask questions, test, solve problems, discuss, plan, create, practice, investigate?

• Who is the ‘star’ of the moment?

– Who gets the Oscar prize in the Leading Role?
– Whose voice fills the space?

I work in HAAGA-HELIA since November 2010 and I have planned many courses. Here is a list of some of the courses I have planned and I teach:

Free-choice courses:



Wedding Planning and Management

Compulsory courses:

Developing Business Skills 2

Marketing 1

Marketing 2

Specialisation courses:

Business Operating Models in Cultural Industries

Project Management in Cultural Industries

Marketing and Sales of Cultural Products

Legal Issues in Culture Export

Strategic Models for Culture Export

Take a look at the course descriptions and let me what do you think of the Learning outcomes of each course?

Aaltonen recommends the following when teachers write the learning outcomes of a course:

  • Use only one verb per learning outcome.
  • Avoid vague terms like know, understand, learn, be familiar with, be exposed to, be acquainted with, and be aware of, etc. (these terms are associated with teaching objectives rather than learning outcomes).
  • Check that your students actually understand the meaning of the verbs
  • Avoid complicated sentences. If necessary use more one than one sentence to ensure clarity.
  • Ensure that the learning outcomes of the module relate to the overall outcomes of the programme.
  • The learning outcomes must be observable and measurable.

The way I structure my courses depends of the type of course (free-choice, compulsory, specialisation studies), nature of the subject, the project (if any) commissioned by a business partner to our educational institution that ties with the course, as well as the group of students attending it (degree students, exchange students, open path students, etc.) and my own characteristics and strengths. In general,  my courses are arranged in any one of the following ways: chronologically, from abstract to concrete, from theory to application and around a set of project-related tasks and deliverables.

I take into consideration the public holidays and the other courses deadlines when designing my own courses. For instance, in our teacher team we discuss and share our course plans in the beginning of the semester in order to identify if conflicts in content or deadlines arise. There is unnecessary stress to the students and the teachers, when all exams are at the end of the semester. I recently decided not to give an exam to my courses. Instead, I use different methods such as study circles and student presentations that ensures that the students read certain material that are necessary for the course.

In addition, I try to use a variety of teaching methods and tools in order to appeal to a variety of learners. However, often the number of course participants (e.g. more than 30 and up to 55!) limits flexibility in my teaching style.

Last, the assessment of the students plays an important role in the course planning. In HAAGA-HELIA, there is an assessment system in place -and as you can see from the course descriptions above- all courses have the assessment criteria for grades 1,3,5. In Finland, 1 is the lowest and 5 the highest in higher education. My efforts are towards keeping a balance and rhythm throughout the semester between individual assignments and teamwork in projects as well as a fair way to evaluate individuals at the end of the semester giving certain weight in % to each assessment criterion.

If you are looking for an online document to read, you can take a look at the following resources:

A Self-Directed Guide to  Designing Courses for Significant Learning

Karjalainen Asko, Alha Katariina and Jutila Suvi 2006. Give me time to think. Determining student workload in higher education. University of Oulu.

Järvelä Sanna, Volet Simone & Järvenoja Hanna 2010. Research on Motivation in Collaborative Learning: Moving Beyond the Cognitive–Situative Divide and Combining Individual and Social Processes. Educational Psychologist 45 (1), 15-27.

Kennedy Declan, Hyland Áine, RyanNorma. Writing and Using Learning Outcomes: a Practical Guide. Implementing Bologna in your institution. Bologna Handbook C 3.4-1.

The Learning Classroom: Theory into Practice. Annenberg Learner.

Yang Weidong 2012. A Step to Facilitating Learning – Learning Strategies Instruction.
International Journal of English Linguistics Vol. 2, No. 1, 55-58.

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