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Course Design Blueprint


Fundamentally, courses are structured into a set of modules, each with a defined credit value, each of which will be included on students’ final transcripts.  Other pages in this section of the blueprint look at the University’s credit structures, and the requirements for the University’s awards, how courses’ modules can be structured within Block schedules, the wider attributes students need to develop that course teams should integrate into their curricula, and the relationship between theory and practice and how these should be articulated within courses.  Here we look at how all these elements might be brought together with the subject content to determine a module structure for the course.

Three Phase Development Process

While there are many ways in which course structures can be developed, we set out a three phase process that could form the basis for a course team’s development process.  The phases are:

  1. Subject selection and refinement – a review of the essential areas of subject matter that need to be included in the course and recognition of elements that may be optional or out of the scope for the course.
  2. Creating structure and order – mapping the content into modules and determining what order these modules will need to take, and the level of study at which each will presented.
  3. Defining the student experience – determining how the students’ learning will progress through the module structure, mapping how subject, academic and transferable knowledge, skills and attributes will be delivered, practiced, refined and assessed through the course of the students’ studies.

Where possible, this three phase process can be facilitated through a dedicated development event (usually over one or two days) during which the course team work to develop a course storyboard.

Phase one: Selecting Subject Matter

Depending on the nature of the course and the discipline area studied, some course teams will have a significant amount of freedom in selecting what their course content should consist of, whilst other courses may be highly limited in order to meet external constraints or subject necessities.

While course teams may have an extensive list of content that they believe would be appropriate for inclusion in their course, it is not usually practical to include it all.  Any course content will need to be placed into modules to form a coherent structure as a whole course rather than forming what appears to be a random set of modules.  Some content may require students to have already completed significant learning to enable then to engage with it or only be suited for study in the final year or at postgraduate level, whilst the exploration of other content may be limited by the constraints of the resources or facilities available to students.


In practice, many courses do not have sufficient resources to be able to offer a range of study options for students, particularly when a course has not been established and good student numbers are unproven.  Consequently,  it is usual to be pragmatic in initial course content selection, restricting content to the elements that are core and a selection of other content that creates a meaningful and holistic programme of study that aligns with the course overview and course aims.  However, recognising the potential for courses to recruit well, some courses will choose to include lower priority content in optional modules that they validate but will not be advertised to students as available until the course is able to sustain their delivery.

Phase Two: Creating structure and order

Once the course's subject areas are identified, these need to be placed into a Module structure.  The University's framework for course structures is explored in the Course Structure section.  While it is not always easy to achieve, course teams should aim to divide the subject matter up into cognate collections that can each form a single module that represents a clearly understandable portion of the curriculum. 

Each level of studies will normally consist of six modules (of 20 credits each) including any required elements such as research methods in Honours degrees.  As explored in the discussions on Block Scheduling, course teams will need to define an order for the delivery of the modules within a level.  While setting an order can place restrictions when the course's timetable and resources are allocated each year, it does allow teams to define a progression of skills and knowledge development through each level.

Phase Three: Defining the student experience

Once a course module structure has been defined, this will need to be refined through exploration of the modules themselves, seeking to plan in detail how the students' learning will progress.  In particular, the course team will need to explore how subject, academic and transferable knowledge, skills and attributes will be delivered, practiced, refined and assessed through the course of the students’ studies:

  • Many courses are intentionally transformative in philosophy, aiming to enable the students to 'become' in accordance with some vocational, professional or subject based identity.  Health courses need to ensure that the attitudes and behaviours expected within the students' intended professions are imbued into students from an early stage, and reinforced and reflected upon through the students' progression through their studies and placement.  Many other courses will have a similar desire to embed such a transformative element that needs to be encapsulated within the students' learning journey - becoming a scientist, a collaborative artist, a legal practitioner, or a counsellor.
  • The delivery of academic skills learning will be an essential element of the early part of all courses, ensuring the students are appropriately equipped to engage with the studies they are embarking upon.  While some course teams choose to employ a single module to deliver academic and study skills, it is more normal to develop these skills through a series of modules where each is provided in advance of expectations that the students use of them within learning activities and subsequently within assessment.  Some teams might choose to employ a learning hub (See details on Course Structure page) to support this delivery.
  • The planning of a progressive assessment strategy will inform how module assessment strategies are determined, ensuring that students have opportunities to develop and practice key assessment competencies before being assessed on them, and also designing assessment strategies that will help prepare students for later, more complex and demanding, assessment tasks.
  • Where engagement with placement opportunities is a key feature of a course, the process through which students are prepared for this is important and needs to be threaded into the modules.