For fully online learning courses, curriculum design will involve whole course teams and need to go through lengthy internal and external validation processes.
Alternatively, your institution may choose to make parts of an existing course available online, which may not need validating at an institutional level. This depends on the model for online learning that your institution prefers to adopt for different student groups.
Our accompanying scaling up online learning guide discusses market demand and business models in more detail. In summary, fully online and distance learning courses are:
- Often aimed at postgraduate level and target part-time students, many of whom also work
- Can be expensive for institutions to establish and maintain
- Often treated very differently, regarding operational management, technical aspects and learning support for students
- Usually need to go through a lengthy validation and quality assurance process
- Often marketed globally
- Can be costly for students, although workplaces sometimes pay for or contribute towards courses linked to professional development.
Massive open online courses (MOOCS)
- Free to the student
- Can attract thousands of applicants (though there is usually a significant student drop-out as the course progresses)
- Offer certification of attendance rather than formal accreditation and likely to undergo a shorter validation process
- Often participated by highly qualified professionals, who can self-regulate and learn in an online context without much support
- Not aimed at undergraduate students, who may need a lot of scaffolding and support.
Not all open online learning courses are 'massive', and your institution may choose to adopt open approaches in other courses.
MOOCs and distance learning courses can support continuing professional development and just-in-time professional learning. For undergraduate courses, your institution may advocate a blended approach that balances face-to-face and online learning.
This means that students will benefit from having some content and activities available at any time, while still having access to appropriate personal support and services.
Supporting staff and students
Whichever online learning models your institution adopts, curriculum design choices are very significant and have an impact on the kind of support your staff and students may need.
If your institution changes its existing teaching and assessment approaches for online learning this may be extremely challenging to management, teaching and support staff. These changes might affect operational processes and practices across the institution.
Your institution may need to reconsider several cultural 'norms' and traditions at both an institutional level and a subject discipline level.
Moving to fully online or blended models provides an opportunity to consider different teaching models and approaches that take advantage of social networking technologies and cloud computing services.
Standing out from the competition
By incorporating new ways of teaching, your institution can begin to develop a unique selling point (USP) that stands out from the competition.
Your institution may be able to incorporate simulation or virtual reality technologies to overcome difficulties of student access to labs or field work opportunities. Or it may choose to adopt game-based learning, or open learning approaches.
It’s not advisable to allow new technologies to drive curriculum design. Any institution will need to consider a wider range of factors to determine the most appropriate methods to use. These include:
- The most appropriate pedagogic approach for online students
- Industry or profession requirements
- Government drivers
- Market demand
- Institutional strategies
- Operational or technological constraints
- Subject discipline requirements
- The affordances of different technologies
- The vision of the teaching team.
A holistic approach like this can also prevent your institution following the latest trends in technology simply because other institutions have adopted them:
- Is a flipped classroom or MOOC the best model for your course?
- Does this approach support the intended learning outcomes?
- Does it align with your institutional strategies?
One of the exciting aspects of adopting or incorporating online learning is that it can offer opportunities for students to engage with content and people more flexibly. It can help you provide choices that support students’ self-regulation and decision-making.
Online learning can encourage independent learning as well as provide support that would not be possible in a traditional classroom-based course.
Our guides, how can I keep the curriculum relevant in a time of rapid change? and using technology to improve curriculum design, assist with planning and designing the curriculum. Curriculum planning and design involves every aspect of a learning provider’s business including:
- Market research
- Course development
- Quality assurance and enhancement
- Resource allocation
- Recruitment assessment
The Course Resource Appraisal Model (CRAM) tool, developed by the London Knowledge Lab at the Institute of Education, is a valuable resource for any institution planning a new course, whether face-to-face, blended or fully online.
Other useful tools and guidance for curriculum design produced by higher education institutions and bodies include:
- Learning designer (University College London, Institute of Education – London Knowledge Lab)
- Curriculum design toolkit (University of Hertfordshire)
- Introduction to curriculum mapping and assessment blueprinting (CMAB) (University of Glasgow)
- Carpe diem learning design workshop (University of Leicester)
- 7Cs of learning design toolkit (University of Leicester)
- Flexible pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas (HE Academy 2014)
- Learning design toolbox (on Cloudworks 2009)
Several case studies highlight how other institutions have adapted curricula:
- Updating education studies for a digital age (Blackburn College)
- Embedding digital literacy in Early Childhood Studies (Bishop Grosseteste University)
- Borderless practices in journalism studies (City University)
- Borderless journeys in photography (Phonar/Coventry University)
- Video learning for engineering apprentices (PETA Training and Consultancy Services)
- Digital life: e-safety and safeguarding (Shrewsbury College)
- Digital approaches to English and mathematics (ACER: six partner organisations in the eastern)
- Improving success by flipping the learning (Hull College)
- A holistic approach to embedding technology in curriculum design and planning processes (Heart of Worcestershire College)
|Barriers||What you can do|
|Difficulties adapting pedagogic approaches and assessment and designing online programmes/courses||Provide staff training and support|
Establish champions across the institution
|Share existing good practice across the institution|
|Learn from external institutions|
|Lack of support for innovation and new approaches||Develop strategies and policies that support and allow agile responses and innovative approaches|
|Link curriculum development to institutional strategies|
Staff engagement activities, training and support
|Engage various stakeholders such as students, industry and professions to highlight benefits|
|Use exemplars from other institutions|
|Poor understanding of the roles needed to deliver and support online learning|
Develop institution-wide policies on staff roles for online learning
|Reconsider current staff roles and highlight and changing or new roles|
|Facilitate engagement activities for staff across faculties and departments|