Tiimiakatemia – From Pedagogical Idea to Quality Unit of Education

On 19 January 1993, just like Martin Luther had nailed his theses on the church door in Wittenberg centuries earlier, Johannes Partanen pinned a message on the notice board of the Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences (hereafter JAMK), in which he asked students, "Do you want to go on a trip around the world and learn some marketing on the side?" The seed of Tiimiakatemia Jyväskylä had been planted (Leinonen, Partanen, Palviainen 2001). The message raised a good deal of attention among both students and teachers. Johannes' teacher colleagues were bemused and wondered if he'd lost his senses, promising students a free trip around the world.

But Partanen's "thesis" struck a chord. 24 eager business administration students enlisted and formed the first team, which was called "Round the World" or "RTW". To the horror of the cleaners, RTW carried all the desks out of class 147 into the corridor and began sitting in comfortable armchairs in a circle like American Indians at a campfire. Johannes began running the team in a whole new way. Teaching situations were given new, distinctive names, such as birth giving, cross-pollination, and fertilizing. In addition to something of a rebel spirit, the changes expressed a strong desire to differentiate from the traditional methods of the business school, which were marked by tight schedules and traditional class-room teaching with students sitting quietly and listening passively to the teacher's lecture.

New Study Methods and Facilities

Johannes Partanen began using new learning methods with the students as his partners in learning. The most significant difference was that the students were important and active parties in building the new learning model from the very beginning. They abandoned traditional courses and, in particular, schedules, and began to practise learning through teamwork and small-scale projects. Most of the projects of the time were market research projects ordered by various companies. The most important change was that now students were doing real business, work that real customers wanted, while simultaneously reading a lot of literature about the issues involved.

Learning was based on Kolb's theory of experiential learning, upon which Partanen developed his own model of experiential learning. According to Partanen's model, experiences obtained through practice and experimentation nourish our thoughts and concretize issues we read from books, resulting in more effective learning. Naturally, introducing the new learning methods confronted many difficulties: sometimes the students got tired and demanded familiar, traditional classroom teaching. The new methods also caused problems with the staff of the university, other students, and the upper secondary school operating in the same premises. The new way of doing things was also a clear message to the other teachers, who may have seen the new pedagogical experiment as a threat to their own teaching methods.

The new methods attracted more and more students, and at the onset of 1996, five new teams comprising over 80 students were in operation, organized as independent associations. The classroom reserved for them was soon too small. Students in Round the World Team had gradually completed their studies and achieved their BBA's. Throughout their studies, they had done various projects in cooperation with, for example, Neste Rally Finland, the City of Jyväskylä, and trade organizations in the Jyväskylä Region. Through those projects they had increased their funds enough to carry out their original objective: a trip around the world.

The RTW Team's world tour began in December 1996 and lasted 7 weeks. They flew from Helsinki to Bangkok and Hong Kong, on to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, Sydney, New Zealand, the Fiji Islands, and via San Francisco and New York, back to Finland. All but two of the students who graduated from the RTW Team participated in the trip led by Johannes Partanen, who had now evolved from lecturer to coach. Ever since, almost all graduates of Team Academy have gone on a trip around the world or another long distance voyage, such as an ocean cruise, together with their team.

The classroom at JAMK was far too small for 80 students, so in the spring of 1996, they began seeking new facilities. In the fall of the same year, JAMK hired 900 m2 of office space from the former headquarters of the Schauman mill company, an impressive, two-story brick building, for 25,000 Finnish Marks per month. The new facilities were inaugurated in December 1996.

At this point, the training program needed a name. As the result of an idea competition, the name Team Institute was chosen, but inspired by Plato, it soon evolved into its present form, Tiimiakatemia. The logo was designed in an idea competition at the Institute of Fine Arts at the Lahti University of Applied Sciences. In the early stages, Tiimiakatemia received financial support from various national and EU funding organizations. Tiimiakatemia separated from the other educational operations of the JAMK business school, and obtained funding independently according to its number of students.

Attention and Awards

The number of students at Tiimiakatemia increased every year by the dozen. At this point, students could apply for Tiimiakatemia after their first year, upon completing the basic business studies. New students came primarily from JAMK's own business training program, but year after year, more and more students applied from other Universities of Applied Sciences as well. After the initial enthusiasm, the amount of applicants fell slightly, but then it has remained steadily at a level from which Tiimiakatemia can choose the students best suitable for and most inspired by its way of learning. Student selection has been successful, because only a few Tiimiakatemia students have gone back to conventional education. Tiimiakatemia began to gain a reputation. Upper secondary school teachers reported that many of their active students already knew about Tiimiakatemia and wanted to apply as soon as they graduated.

The growth in student numbers entailed the need for new coaches in addition to Johannes Partanen. In the early years, new coaches were mainly recruited from Tiimiakatemia's own BBA graduates (e.g., Hanna Heikkinen, and Mika Partanen). Some of them went on to complete the vocational teacher's pedagogical studies.

The innovative educational model of Tiimiakatemia Jyväskylä gained plenty of both regional and national interest. There was a constant flow of visitors. Some similar training units were created in other universities of applied sciences.

The business world was quick to embrace the new education model that emphasized entrepreneurship and practical work. In 1997, Junior Chamber International Finland awarded Tiimiakatemia with the esteemed national Productive Idea Award. It was the first time a unit of a university of applied sciences received the award. In addition, the Central Chamber of Commerce of Finland awarded Head Coach Johannes Partanen with an esteemed steel medal as recognition for his innovativeness, courage, and persistence.

Tiimiakatemia is a community of higher learning that is organized in a way best described as chaotic, networked, and flat. Each student belongs to one permanent team with its own designated coach. Every team operates as an officially established cooperative business that is bound by law to maintain proper bookkeeping. Students have different, changing roles in their cooperatives. Cooperatives acquire commissions and projects directly from companies and various organizations. Projects are often marketing new products or services for small and medium-sized businesses, or coaching and developing new practices in customer organizations. Cooperatives can also serve as incubators, and their new product and service innovations have often led to new businesses that students continue as independent entrepreneurs after graduating. Most projects have been rather small, on an average of 10,000-15,000 €, to keep the students' financial risk on a manageable level.

Tiimiakatemia's cooperatives have sometimes even achieved national acclaim for their projects, for example, the national Network event for students of universities of applied sciences, and the Palveluaalto (Service Wave) training for the personnel of various companies. Renowned speakers, such as philosopher Esa Saarinen and Bonk-artist Alvar Gullichsen, drew thousands of listeners to these events each year. 3,500 students participated in the first Network event in Jyväskylä in 1996. The event grew steadily until 2001, when nearly 10,000 students were present. Of all events organized by Tiimiakatemia, Network gained the most attention in Jyväskylä, largely because of its negative side-effects, such as students' disorderly behaviour. Partly because of those problems, and partly because it had swelled into such a huge event, Network was discontinued in agreement between JAMK, the Jyväskylä government, and the police.

When the Schauman plywood mill was shut down, the Jyväskylä government and the owner began zoning and developing the Lutakko area. With substantial EU funding, JAMK first built the Turbiini building by joining two of the plywood mill's old constructions and then, in 2003, the new IT-Dynamo building across the street. The old industrial plant had evolved into a campus for the "brain industry", enhanced by several top companies of the information technology sector that moved into the 15-story Innova building next door. In autumn 2000, Tiimiakatemia moved into the Turbiini building together with the communication training program and the data administration department of JAMK. To make the Turbiini building complete, it also hosts JAMK's restaurant, Idea, and the sauna built on the floor of the old plywood mill's smokestack.

Quality Unit, Expansion, and Closing Shop at Jämsänkoski

At the end of 1999, the Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences (JAMK) decided to participate in the first Education Quality Unit Competition organized by the Ministry of Education and Culture, by nominating Tiimiakatemia as a national quality unit. The application was made in 1999, and following the recommendation of the assessment committee for institutions of higher learning, the Ministry of Education and Culture awarded Tiimiakatemia with the title of Quality Unit in 2000-2001. In addition, the Ministry of Education and Culture granted JAMK 2.25 million Finnish Marks, a million of which was used exclusively for developing Tiimiakatemia and making it an international unit. Quality Unit status was also granted to three other units.

According to the quality unit feedback, Tiimiakatemia implements its philosophy innovatively, and its theoretical foundation works in practice. Tiimiakatemia's network thinking has also been realized in both theory and practice. Tiimiakatemia has a distinct regional mission to serve in developing small and medium-sized enterprises, and there is plenty of proof of its effectiveness. Furthermore, the employment of Tiimiakatemia graduates has been 100%. The assessment committee also stated that continuing development of the methods requires creating an international cooperation network. (Huttula 2000)

From 2000 on, instead of marketing, Tiimiakatemia focused more on coaching entrepreneurship and strengthening the business sector in Central Finland. Timo Lehtonen was recruited as a new coach in 2002, Ulla Luukas in 2004. Timo Lehtonen had a long history as a shopkeeper in Jyväskylä, and Ulla Luukas came to Tiimiakatemia from Nokia. In 2003, the Ministry of Education and Culture established 40 students per year as Tiimiakatemia's official student quota, and the first official entrance examination was organized. Tiimiakatemia's active marketing of student positions and recruiting transfer students from around Finland was condemned in other universities of applied sciences, so it was stopped. Still, Tiimiakatemia Jyväskylä is an attractive learning environment for young people, and students from other universities of applied sciences continue to apply annually.

When JAMK was established in its present organizational form, the Ministry of Education was doubtful that small units in Central Finland outside of Jyväskylä could be successful. In 2000, the Ministry of Education and Culture granted a two-year licence for one unit of trade and business administration for the Southern Central Finland area in Jämsä. At this point, Rector Mauri Panhelainen and R&D Manager Eero Suosara of JAMK suggested to the Ministry of Education that instead of conventional business training, a Tiimiakatemia unit focused on entrepreneurship be launched in Jämsä. This would support creating new businesses in the region of large-scale industry. There was a prolonged debate over different options for the location of the unit. Others wanted the new unit to be launched in the facilities of the Jämsä Region vocational training municipal federation. Other alternatives were the old personnel club of the local paper mill and the present location, the former Koskihotelli (Rapids Hotel) by the river. In the end, the Jämsänkoski municipality bought the fairly new hotel building, which had gone bankrupt, and offered it for lease to the new Tiimiakatemia unit.

Operations were begun at the onset of the autumn semester in 2001, with Head Coach Johannes Partanen coaching the personnel and setting the learning methods in motion. In spite of the new, high quality facilities and excellent teaching, Tiimiakatemia Jämsänkoski never attracted as much students as business units in Jyväskylä. A further problem was the large amount of students who applied for transfer to Jyväskylä.

Tiimiakatemia Jämsänkoski worked actively to develop local entrepreneurship, and also invested in adult education. Tiimiakatemia Jämsänkoski carried out an extensive research project to create a plan for developing tourism in the Jämsä Region. The unit also had an active role in creating a regional know-how program. The Ministry of Education finalized the operating permit of Tiimiakatemia Jämsänkoski in 2002. However, soon after that, a massive wave of national structural development of institutions of higher learning changed the situation in Jämsänkoski. Maintaining small units became an undesired burden. And thus, in accordance with the recommendation given by the Ministry of Education in the objective and result negotiations of 2006, JAMK decided to shut down Tiimiakatemia Jämsänkoski in 2008. However, the valuable experiences of Tiimiakatemia will continue to be used in the Jämsä Region, for example, in adult education and regional development.

Renewal by Internationalization

Tiimiakatemia Jyväskylä has developed and renewed its operations and pedagogical methods continuously in the new millennium. The circle model of learning has been refined into a "brain industrial model" that works in accordance with Peter Senge's learning organization theory and Nonaka and Takeuchi's knowledge theories. Today, the learning results of Tiimiakatemia students are evaluated according to the three-section "rocket model" (see Leinonen, Partanen & Palviainen, 2002). Tiimiakatemia has also been integrated as part of the Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences (JAMK) quality assurance and task management system. Lately, much has been invested in improving learning result assessment and documentation.

Most importantly, Tiimiakatemia has managed to hold on to its inspired entrepreneur spirit over the years. Over 500 BBA's have graduated from Tiimiakatemia Jyväskylä throughout its history. All in all, there have been around 50 student teams (cooperatives) and over 40 new businesses have been started. Tiimiakatemia has had a significant regional impact on Central Finland and on various places in Finland. BBA's from Tiimiakatemia have been employed almost 100%, and their active and positive entrepreneur spirit is widely appreciated. One of the most significant regional development processes in Central Finland has been the Y4 process. The objective of this process is improving the conditions for entrepreneurship in Central Finland. Many of the active parties and leaders of the Y4 process have graduated from Tiimiakatemia and have used Tiimiakatemia's methods in developing the process.

Tiimiakatemia Jyväskylä has also raised significant international interest. Several international expert groups have visited Jyväskylä. This has led to the birth of many European units built on Tiimiakatemia's model, for example, in France, Holland, Hungary, and Spain. They are independent units that may be part of local institutions of higher learning or other education organizations. They operate in an active network relationship with Tiimiakatemia Jyväskylä. In addition, Tiimiakatemia is host to the Finnish office of SOL (Society of Organizational Learning).

The innovative operating model, especially in its development stages, has embodied cliqued rhetoric and phenomena that have sometimes led to conflict with the administration of the JAMK University of Applied Sciences. The university has actively supported Tiimiakatemia, but has also held it on a loose leash, ensuring its freedom of operation within the university's framework. An educational reform process like Tiimiakatemia requires a certain amount of administrative freedom and flexible administrative applications. On the other hand, granting a degree of higher learning and ensuring its quality requires meeting specific conditions, for which the school administration is responsible.

In the end, the innovative model of Tiimiakatemia has been able to meet the conditions and rules set by law and the Ministry of Education and Culture without any major problems. However, this has sometimes required lengthy discussions between Tiimiakatemia coaches and the administration of JAMK. These conversations have been founded on the fact that Tiimiakatemia has been and continues to be a jewel in the polished crown of the Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences.


Huttula, Tapio (toim.) 2000. Ammattikorkeakoulujen koulutuksen

laatuyksiköt 2000.

Korkeakoulujen arviointineuvoston julkaisuja 13:2000. Oy Edita Ab.


Leinonen, Niina, Partanen, Timo & Palviainen, Petri, 2004. Team Academy: a true story of a community that learns by doing. PS-Kustannus Oy. Jyväskylä