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The evolution of a learner-centered programme

Haaga-Helia’s sports coaching and management education programme has experienced significant changes in educational approaches over the past two decades. These changes have transformed the programme from a traditional instructor-centered teaching approach (ICT) to a more learner-centered approach (LCT).


Mika Saarinen

opettaja, urheilu
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Nicolas Struhár

Haaga-Helia’s degree programme in sports coaching & management

Published : 01.11.2023

The first major change in Haaga-Helia’s sports coaching and management education occurred after its 10-year existence. The change involved a shift from an educational approach, where instruction represents the foundation of the learning process and outcomes are predetermined (instructor-centered teaching, ICT), toward a focus on facilitating the learning and development of general skills and abilities (learner-centered teaching, LCT) (Weimer 2013).

The learner-centered approach accepts the fact of uncertain results since its core function is not to control the learning environment but to facilitate and support the diversity and inclusion of students (Blumberg 2019).

The first change involved another significant shift, which was a competency-based curriculum. With this shift, the students’ practical skills became a central development target (Tynjälä 2008).

There was a lot of research-based information available about the positive effects of learner-centeredness (Blumberg 2009; Weimer 2002, Barr & Tagg 1995) or, as the sports coaching reference framework says, athlete-centeredness (Kerr & Stirling 2008). However, having the knowledge of how good problem-solving skills benefit the development of students’ expertise, we still had many questions on how to successfully implement this information into the new curricular and teaching approach.

Teaching in the unknown

The reality was that our teachers needed to begin implementing the learner-centered teaching components rather sooner than later to be more efficient.

The implementations and major changes required teachers to navigate through unfamiliar territory. They had to move from knowing how to guide, monitor, and most importantly, control outcomes to a more open approach allowing students to take responsibility for their own learning.

The teaching staff accepted the challenge and embarked on a journey to understand, implement, and reflect on the effectiveness of learner-centered teaching. At the beginning of this process, the teachers experienced uncertainty and a lack of skills, but still, they continued with determination. This journey not only developed their own understanding and skills in implementing LCT but also showed the importance of continuous reflection and improvement.

Teachers in the process of continuous development

Another big change in the sports coaching and management education programme happened recently. The programme was thoroughly researched and evaluated to find the right balance between instructor-centered and learner-centered teaching, once the staff deepened its knowledge and skills in process-oriented teaching.

The goal of the second change was to create a learning environment that offers students greater levels of freedom and autonomy, while ensuring that the learning results are achieved and support the overall outcome. A key aspect of this transition was the recognition that the process itself is crucial. It was not only about structural or curricular changes but also about the development and growth of students and teaching staff.

This developmental process emphasized the empathetic and personal nature of the relationship between teachers and students. Periodical and continuous one-on-one tutoring and mentoring is designed to allow students to explore their personal emotions, and to foster a deeper connection with their tutors.

The emphasis on personal growth and generic skill development reflects the programme’s commitment to creating a safe, supportive, and positive learning environment.

In the process, teachers created for the entire campus a common frame of reference for generic skills, which have a decisive position in the professional development of students – now and in the future. In addition, a Personal Growth course was implemented, with a focus solely on the development of students’ meta-social and wellbeing skills throughout the subject-specific discussions.

Current status of the teaching approach

Currently, one of the programme’s fundamental characteristics is the learner-centered teaching approach. The teaching staff of the degree programme has adopted this approach due to its effectiveness in coach development programs and suitability toward the sports industry.

The approach recognizes that each student brings unique perspectives, experiences, and learning styles to the classroom, thus enabling further development and learning within an open and autonomous group of students.

The pedagogical development described by the authors is inspired by Nicolas Struhár’s internship and thesis: Learner-centered Coaching Education in Vierumäki: A Case Study on the Presence of the Learner-Centered Educational Approach.

An other blog article by the authors describes the pedagogical choice and its effects on learning as the knowledge of learner-centered teaching deepens.


Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. 1995. From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change: Magazine of Higher Learning, 27, 6, pp. 12-26.

Blumberg, P. 2009. Developing learner-centered teaching: A practical guide for faculty. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco

Blumberg, P. 2019. Making learning-centered teaching work: Practical strategies for implementation. Stylus Publishing. Sterling. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

Kerr G.A. & Stirling A.E. 2008. Child Protection in Sport: Implications of an Athlete-Centered Philosophy, Quest, 60:2, 307-323.

Tynjälä, P. 2008. Perspective into learning in the workplace. Educational Research Review, 3, pp. 130-154.

Weimer, M. 2002. Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice, 1st edition. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

Weimer, M. 2013. Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice, 2nd edition. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

Editing: Marianne Wegmüller

Picture: Haaga-Helia