What you need to know
Courses or programmes of study are often broken down into smaller chunks of learning as modules or units.
In theory, modules are the building blocks that combine to form a coherent learning experience. They can also provide a convenient way of organising a complex curriculum and can offer efficiency gains – for example, when modules on a common topic are reused on different courses.
Why good module design matters
In practice, a modular programme can result in a fragmented and unbalanced experience of the curriculum.
Problems can also arise when courses are standardised to give all modules the same value. Simply requiring modules to be redesigned to a common pattern can produce artificially manufactured solutions.
Thus, while a modular programme is often promoted as a way of offering choice and flexibility for students, designing modules requires a macro-level response. A key finding from our research is that learning designers need dedicated time to fully think through how a redesign will work in all its elements – and, in particular, how it will be assessed.
What has proved particularly valuable in all parts of the sector is the card and storyboard approach pioneered by our Viewpoints project at Ulster University. This approach to designing whole programmes and modules allows teams to play with (ie visualise, undo and remake) a design until all the elements work effectively together. The ABC model from University College London is one such example.
What the experts say
“Having all the programme team together in one room for two hours is very powerful because it helps people see the whole picture. Individual module designs can be presented to the rest of the team. The whole programme team can then discuss whether something is missing that will impact on the student experience, a meta-level discussion that encompasses the whole programme not just elements of it.”
Clive Young, digital education advisory team leader, University College London
Be inspired: case studies
University College London – the arena, blended, connected (ABC) approach to learning design
University College London (UCL) has trialled its ABC workshop successfully with a range of programmes in different universities across the UK and Europe.
The format engages curriculum staff in fast-paced, face-to face design sessions in which they plan or rethink what they currently do with their students. Delegates capture their current practice by plotting activities on a graph before creating a new storyboard of learning activities, both online and offline, for that module.
The new sequence is built up on the storyboard using types of learning activity based on Professor Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework.
Towards the close of the 90-minute session, each module team presents its storyboard to other teams to create a unique, programme-level view of the student learning experience.
“The aim is to work rapidly in a streamlined way to produce well-designed courses aligned to institutional mandates but also based on sound educational principles.”
Clive Young, digital education advisory team leader and Nataša Perović, digital education adviser, University College London
Hartpury College – setting standards for digital learning
Hartpury College, a land-based college in Gloucestershire, runs an annual audit of Moodle courses to monitor what kind of interactive learning opportunities have been made available to students, and how each resource has been used.
Each department then uses the data to review the impact of its contribution to digital learning. For this purpose, the college has a template defining the minimum expectations for a course page on Moodle.
While this has only been applied to the college’s further education courses, plans are in hand to extend this initiative to higher education courses. However, the blended learning manager, Andy Beddoe, believes that digital learning will only succeed if teachers first understand the pedagogy.
“Good teaching improves outcomes, not technology. The important thing is not using the technology but using it in an effective way.”
Andy Beddoe, blended learning manager, Hartpury College
University of Leeds – taking advantage of high-quality digital content
Our approach to partnerships in digital procurement has enabled a whole world of valuable and hitherto little seen digital resources to be opened up to students.
As an example, Dr Raphael Hallett at the University of Leeds has included digitised texts from the Medical Heritage Library on 19th century medicine in a module on studying in a digital age. The beautifully designed infographics and online taxonomies of these resources creates a highly visual environment in which students can find their own route to knowledge while developing their skills as digital researchers.
“Jisc's partnership with the Medical Heritage Library showcases a true 'meeting of minds' between archival ambition and digital expertise. The project's digitisation of 19th-century medical collections reveals not only the intrinsic value of opening access to tremendously rich historical sources, but responds adroitly to modern practices of online research and reading.”
Raphael Hallett, director, Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence
- Explore the University College London’s ABC workshop resources.
- Watch a video of an ABC workshop
- Follow ABC learning design workshop outcomes on Twitter
- Review Hartpury College’s unit minimum specification for its courses’ Moodle pages