Basic Principles of University Teaching

Learning goal orientation and competence orientation form the common foundation of modern university teaching. Here you will find a short introduction to these two basic principles of academic didactics.

Learning Goal Orientation

Learning goal orientation is an expression of the "shift from teaching to learning", the change in perspective from "What teaching content do I want to convey?" to "What learning goals should students achieve?". This shift of perspective from the teaching activity of lecturers to the learning activities of students is important because learning does not automatically result from teaching but has a complex relationship with it; modern university teaching focuses beyond the activity of teaching to the question of how to promote the actual learning process..

From modern teaching and learning research, we now know that the metaphor of "knowledge transfer" inadequately describes the complex processes involved in teaching and learning. The quote "Education is not filling a vessel, but kindling a flame" (Aristophanes) more aptly reflects the current state of our knowledge about an effective teaching process.

Learning goal orientation focuses on the achievement of learning success; it promotes a change in perspective on the learning process by focusing not on a collection of content or instructional activities by teachers, but on a collection of learning goals that students are expected to achieve. Accordingly, good teaching consists of stimuli that help students move from their prior knowledge to the intended learning goals. Depending on the students' prior knowledge and the level of the intended learning results, a frontal lecture is often not the most efficient stimulus. If teaching staff are aware of the students' level of knowledge, they can better assess what learning opportunities they need to provide. Wise alignment of assessment with learning goals (constructive alignment) increases transparency for students and leads them to work more purposefully and independently toward achieving learning goals. This also makes the definition of learning goals an important planning and monitoring tool for university teaching.

The "shift from teaching to learning" called for in the Bologna Process will entail a fundamental change in the culture of teaching and learning in the long term and is not done with the exchange of a few terms and methods. Rather, teaching staff are invited to undergo a change of role, from knowledge broker to learning facilitator. The focus on learning goals challenges teachers and learners alike; but when both experience that they share responsibility for learning success, new spaces open up for openness and creativity, and teaching and learning also become more fun.

  • When successful learning becomes an issue, it can help teaching staff to think back: When, where and how did I learn well? When not so well?
  • Learning goals can only be used as a guide if they are formulated in such a way that students can read learning success from them and can see how much further they have come and when they have reached the goal.
  • Students should take more responsibility for their learning process. Particularly in the first semesters, students must be supported in assuming their responsibility. For example, learning competencies should be promoted, expectations for students should be communicated openly.

Competence Orientation

Competence orientation describes a set of strategies to reduce inert knowledge in our graduates. Instead, students should be able to transform knowledge into action. This requires, on the one hand, the sustainable integration of knowledge, values and skills into the personal competence profile and, on the other hand, the transfer to complex situations.

Inert knowledge refers to knowledge that exists in theory but cannot be translated into action. Students acquire a great deal of knowledge in university lectures, which only translates into action competence to a limited extent; many classic examination formats reinforce this effect. In order to counteract this, there are calls for a more competence-oriented perspective in university teaching: teaching should not be oriented to the knowledge canon of the respective subject, but to the action competencies that graduates are expected to master. However, factual knowledge should not be played off against competence, because knowledge is a necessary component of competence and must sometimes simply be learned by heart as a basis.

Competencies are primarily acquired through action and can therefore only be partially taught. In order to support students in transforming acquired knowledge and skills into action competence, university education must offer action spaces in which students can try out practical situations and experience them in action. Qualified, appreciative and honest feedback plays a decisive role here. This is how reflected experience develops from what is experienced, and this is how students can constructively differentiate their ability to act.

  •  Competencies, understood as controlled and targeted action in complex situations, can best be acquired in practical situations. Simulations, role plays, and training companies are well suited for creative trial actions and learning in increasingly complex realities.
  • Reflection and feedback are indispensable components of competence acquisition. The recurring cycle of action, reflection and feedback by experts must be constantly repeated.
  •  Competencies become observable in actions and activities and are thus in principle also testable. Competency-based examinations tend to be very time-consuming and it is not easy to develop objective assessment standards for them; however, the effort is worthwhile, especially because examinations significantly control what and how students learn and are thus a good instrument for motivating students to engage in deep learning.
Contact ProLehre

ProLehre | Media and Didactics
Barer Str. 19
80333 München

E-Mail: infospam