Tuesday, 7 May 2019



Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece by David Quin as part of the DESTIN capacity building project. The opinions expressed in this DESTIN toolkit are calculated to prompt project discussion, debate and development and are not in any way meant to be a reflection of IADT policy, Irish government policy or EU policy.

Programme Design ONE - Basics

What are the BASIC components in a (so-called) ‘European’ Study Programme? Your HEI may already include all of these components. A willingness to demonstrate your ongoing understanding and implementation of these components will help to make your programme more ‘recognisable’ to prospective international reviewers and potential international partners over the next decade. The components are presented here in no particular order of importance…

A Student Centred Approach

‘A learning approach characterised by innovative methods of teaching which aim to promote learning in communication with teachers and students and which takes students seriously as active participants in their own learning, fostering transferable skills such as problem-solving, critical and reflective thinking (ESU, 2010)’

In all of our dealings with students, we must recognise that our students are our most important stakeholders. If students are confused by what we do, it is our problem to fix. Students should be consulted about the modification and running of their own study programme. The student voice should be listened to and should be acted upon.

A Learning Outcomes approach

‘Statements of what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on completion of a learning process. The achievement of learning outcomes has to be assessed through procedures based on clear and transparent criteria. Learning outcomes are attributed to individual educational components and to programmes at a whole. They are also used in European and national qualifications frameworks to describe the level of the individual qualification.’

On successful completion of each study module (or course), our students should know… Our learning outcomes should be clearly linked to our criteria for assessment. We should be assessing what we intend our students to learn.

Programme Learning Outcomes

10 to 15 fundamental learning outcomes. On successful completion of our study programme, our graduate will be able to… Ideally, Programme Learning Outcomes should be simple enough to be understood by a potential APPLICANT to your study programme.

Student Handbook

The Student Handbook should set out a clear idea of our study programme for our students.

Clear Progression

‘The process which enables learners to pass from one stage of a qualification to the next and to access educational programmes that prepare for qualifications at a higher level than those he/she already possesses.’

There should be clear progression in learning from Stage to Stage (ie year to year) of your programme. Students should start with the basics, progress to more advanced learning and should finish being able to achieve some expertise in what they have learned (student learning should progress through the Levels of your NFQ). Students should be able to progress fairly from one year of our study programme to the next if they’ve learned what we’ve expected them to learn. Students should be able to improve their learning, their performance in our assessments and their grades as they progress through our study programme.

Fair workloads and an ECTS approach

'ECTS is a credit system designed to make it easier for students to move between different countries'

from https://ec.europa.eu/education/resources-and-tools/european-credit-transfer-and-accumulation-system-ects_en

ECTS is a system to facilitate the mobility of students, a system to provide opportunities for students to continue their lifelong studies with a transnational component if they so wish. Any workload calculation is designed to facilitate students and their mobility, rather to 'check whether students are working enough'. The system is intended to be developmental, rather than regulatory.

‘An estimation of the time learners typically need to complete all learning activities such as lectures, seminars, projects, practical work, work placements, individual study required to achieve the defined learning outcomes in formal learning environments. The correspondence of the full-time workload of an academic year to 60 credits is often formalised by national legal provisions. In most cases, student workload ranges from 1,500 to 1,800 hours for an academic year, which means that one credit corresponds to 25 to 30 hours of work. It should be recognised that this represents the normal workload and that for individual learners the actual time to achieve the learning outcomes will vary.’

Under the ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) each student is expected to earn 60 ECTS credits in each stage (or year) of study. Each credit is equivalent to 25 to 30 hours of student work. Student work can include lectures, self-directed study, library work, writing, doing project work, reflecting on their learning etc etc. It is unfair to routinely expect students to work more than this on their studies. Programme teams should carefully assess student workload when designing or redesigning their study programmes and should periodically review student workloads as the programme is running, to make sure that student workloads remain realistic and fair.

Clear Assessment and Feedback

‘Assessment methods

The whole range of written, oral and practical tests/examinations, projects, performances, presentations and portfolios that are used to evaluate the learner’s progress and ascertain the achievement of the learning outcomes of an educational component (unit/module).

Assessment criteria

Descriptions of what the learner is expected to do and at what level, in order to demonstrate the achievement of a learning outcome.

The assessment methods and criteria for an educational component have to be appropriate and consistent with the learning outcomes that have been defined for it and with the learning activities that have taken place.’

Clear Assessment of the student work and clear and timely Feedback of the Assessment. Assessment should be Fair, Valid and Reliable. Assessment should be transparent, clearly understood by students and should be linked to clear Criteria for Assessment. These Assessment Criteria should, in turn, be linked to The Module (or course) Learning Outcomes. Useful feedback should be provided to students through their learning (formative feedback) and when they’re finished the module. Feedback should allow our students to clearly understand how they can improve their knowledge of the subject, or their approach for the future.

See also: Programme Design FOUR: Charts, tables and matrices which may be useful to you to consider in the preparation of your revised study programme documents.


IADT - New Programme Document TEMPLATE

This lengthy and detailed 2015 document provides templates for presenting the information required to submit a New Study Programme for validation.


These are the original Tempus ALIGN guidelines on programme design and redesign

UCD Programme Design Dialogue Tool 2017

This document contains tools which can be adapted for programme and module revision and design.

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