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Learning is the core of education, and curriculum design is the key to learning. It combines all dimensions of university education and contributes significantly to its quality. This is, however, easier in theory than in practice, according to Petri Sjöblom and Joni Kajander from the University of Turku, who present the challenges and solutions with a working life metaphor.

Imagine yourself in this situation: you have just finished a long and tedious recruiting process, but the outcome has been superb. You are looking at a full room of people with excellent recommendations, high motivation and proven qualities. You stop to think for a moment: Good, no less than the best could handle the daunting task ahead of them.

You raise your voice: “You have been chosen here for a mission. You must be creative in order to succeed. You each have 5,000 to 8,000 hours to find and report new knowledge not known even by me. You will be divided into strict departments for efficiency reasons (more like according to tradition, you may think) and you must specialise according to that department (your thought repeats). In addition, you must prove that the new knowledge is a product of you developing yourself. To do this, you must acquire unique experiences and skills by doing mostly the same things as all the others. I trust in you, so does the organisation. Good luck.”

You turn, feel satisfied and smile. You almost wish you could be one of them. You were once one of them, when you started years ago. Now, if you could do it all again, you would avoid all the mistakes you see ahead of them. So many quit during the task. It is part of the process, some just do not commit. In addition, many of your friends, that did not finish the job, talked about having health issues, both mental and physical, as well as financial problems.

You start to walk away, but you have a nagging feeling that you forgot something. What could it be? You gave them a clear task. You trust that they will plan their own timetable for the whole project, that they will set yearly goals and meet them, that they will discover and use all the necessary tools to do the job. You know they are clever people, so they know what not to do. You can surely expect them to work hard and full-time, because the task is so exciting, even though the pay is not good (or are they even getting paid, you can not remember and should check). Well, then again, it is not supposed to be easy. You were lost and confused many times when you did it. Now it all seems so clear, but it was not at all clear back then.

Wait, that is it! Being lost, that is something you are not allowed to be anymore. Your boss would not trust you to do similar things without support and guidance. You are really glad about that. When you started, the insecurity was excruciating. Maybe these new recruits deserve some guidelines; but are you the right person to give them? You decide that you are close enough. You realise something else: you are not alone in your task and neither are they. You return to them and suggest a meeting where you all plan together the coming years and the tools and practicalities that they will need. The audience seems quite relieved and you are strangely happy with yourself.

After the meeting, you advocate the results to your boss. You have learned a lot and you have never seen the staffthat enthusiastic about their tasks. You conclude to your boss:

“It will significantly benefit both, the staff and the organisation, if we tell the staff what we want to achieve, what our values are, what we are proud of and what we are aiming at in the future. All this should be reflected in the everyday work so that the staff feels connected to the purpose and mission of the company. It is, however, not enough just to announce the goals from above. The more experienced the staff becomes, the more valuable knowledge and ideas they will possess. Therefore, by listening to them we will not only achieve our goals, but also be able to refine and even reformulate them. 

However, there has to be a systematic and concrete plan on how to proceed. The staff first needs to learn to use all the basic tools and know the elementary methods necessary for their particular job. Gradually, to make the staffbecome real professionals we also have to teach them more generic skills which would benefit both our company and the staff personally. By doing so, the staff will eventually have the knowledge and skills that will enable them to work in very different kinds of jobs and also contribute to the development of the organisation

It is important to utilise the full potential of our staff. The foremen of the different departments have to work together to avoid overlapping and to make sure that the development of the staff is coherent. Otherwise the staff will only learn sporadic skills and methods and have too narrow a picture of the work the organisation is doing and the context in which it functions.

This lesson learnt applies to universities and study programmes as well. A well-planned curriculum needs to fulfil multiple goals: to define graduate attributes and competences; ensure a coherent curriculum with regard to the content covered as well as the teaching and assessment methods; enable the involvement of students and external stakeholders as well as foster collaboration and communication between teaching staff; through to encouraging continuous reflection and facilitating change.


Petri Sjöblom
University of Turku

Petri Sjöblom is the Director of Student and Academic Affairs at the University of Turku in Finland. He is responsible for the development of teaching and learning and has been educated as a teacher himself. Sjöblom is a member of the EUA Learning & Teaching Thematic Peer Group on Curriculum Design (2019).

Joni Kajander
University of Turku

Joni Kajander is the Specialist for Academic Affairs at the Student Union of the University of Turku. At the Student Union he solves study problems, guides student representatives and develops education provision together with the university. Kajander is a member of the EUA Learning & Teaching Thematic Peer Group on Curriculum Design (2019).

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