Skip to Main Content

Course Design Blueprint

Authentic Learning

Grounding learning in authentic contexts and experiences is vital to enabling students to form meaningful connections between their university learning and their current and future lives and careers.  While making the learning experience authentic is relatively easy for more vocational provision, other courses will employ authentic learning when focusing on the development of students' graduate attributes and personal development. Wherever possible, course delivery should incorporate material and active learning activity that enables students to form these meaningful connections.     

  • Case studies and problems based on real situations should be employed where possible within delivery.  The involvement of employers, service users, or other external stakeholders in presenting and discussing case studies adds further authenticity, richness and complexity to case studies. 
  • Including visits (real or virtual) to relevant locations and workplaces in the curriculum delivery or on-line materials.
  • Integrating (possibly live) interviews with employers, professional practitioners or service users (in person or online).
  • Through the use of videos and other media, authenticity of scenarios and situations can be enriched.
  • Use of employer supplied or external briefs can give authenticity to project work and assessment tasks, particularly if the employer can be involved in the setting, development and final assessment processes.
  • The students' own experiences and opinions: most student cohorts at the University include a diverse range of students who each have their own experiences and contexts to share and build upon during their learning with their peers.  Delivery should endeavor to draw on this through, for example:
    • students providing case studies from their own practice and experience.
    • the use of discussions and debates in class or on-line.

Placement and work-based learning

The Learning, teaching and assessment strategy encourages the inclusion of relevant work-based or placement learning in courses, and many courses do this.  For some provision, placements are a necessary element of all students' learning experience, particularly for professionally accredited courses.  All Foundation degrees must include at least 40 credits worth of placement or work-based learning. For other undergraduate courses, placements can be included in mandatory or optional elements of the curriculum (either within the three year module structure or within a placement year, creating a four year honours degree). 

Where courses include mandatory or optional work placement opportunities, these are provided in line with the University’s Work-based and Placement Learning Framework.  Placement and work based learning form an integral part of students’ learning experiences, with students being encouraged to make and share reflections on links between theoretical perspectives, skills development and work experience.

Where in-curricular placement or work-based learning opportunities are limited, course teams should promote and facilitate extra-curricular opportunities such as placements, internships, and employer or alumni mentoring to enable students to gain experience of work and professional activity.


Mandatory placements

Vocational courses that include placements as an integral portion of their provision will often need to design their curriculum around the needs, and planned student learning experiences of, their placements. 

  • Essential skills and attributes. For most placement opportunities, there will be a baseline expectation for students' skill sets and attitudes or behaviours that will need to be included in the curriculum and possibly achieved in advance of the students' engagement in the placement environmenmts.
  • Role or engagement development. Often at the early stages of prolonged placement students are expected to take a mainly observation approach to their learning, whilst by the end of the course it is usual for students to be fulfilling their intended role fully, albeit with supervision and support. Working with placement providers will help determine the stages that are realistic and match to the opportunities that students would be able to access through their studies. The development processes between these points will need to be mapped out, possibly represented by the competencies and proficiencies that should be achieved by the completion of each level of study, and the learning that would be required to enable students to achieve these milestones set out and integrated into the curriculum.

Where courses include placements as a significant part of their provision they will need to work closely with placement providers in ensuring that their curricula will enable students to access, engage with, learn from, and flourish within their placement environment (see the section on Placement providers in the stakeholders section of this blueprint for further discussion).


Optional and short-term placements

The University encourages all course teams to include some type of work experience or work based learning within their courses, and the inclusion of placement opportunities is one means by which many courses achieve this in a meaningful manner.  However, including a placement in a course needs careful consideration and the following questions are worth considering as teams explore the inclusion of placement opportunities in their curricula:

  • What will the students be expected to get out of their placement experience?  For some courses, placements mainly form an opportunity for students to gain a deeper understanding of work environments through observation, enriching their learning and informing their future career choices, whilst for other courses it is expected that placement experiences will involve students making meaningful contributions through the employment of the skills and knowledge they have learned through their studies.
  • Is it realistic to expect students to have a meaningful experience in placement? While it would be ideal if students are able to engage with a placement opportunity by employing the learning that they have achieved so far in their course, and reflecting on current learning activities as they apply to the placement setting, this is not easy to achieve for many courses.  For a student to fully engage with the activities of many workplaces they will need to have completed employer related learning and inductions, become familiar with the employer's systems and processes, and have gained the confidence of the employers.  This is often unrealistic within a short placement and the inclusion of sandwich year placements is often the only means by which placements can be much more than opportunities to observe.
  • Will the achievement of academic credit be associated with students placements?  If so, how?
  • Who will arrange the placement oppotunities?  While some courses have sufficient employment or external contacts to enable them to provide placement opportunities, many cousres require students to take respionsibility for finding their own opportunities, possibly with support from the course team.
  • How will placements be structured into the course?  The scheduling of placements into the students' learning programme can pose problems.  While for a minority of courses it will be possible to enable students to gain a meaningful placement experience at a particular point in the course year (particularly where the experience is of a more observatory nature), aligning placement opportunities with course schedules is usually more difficult.  Possible approaches for scheduling placements include:
    • Enabling placement to take place through the summer.  If the placement is integral to a module, the students could be required to engage with further learning and reflective activities in order to complete their learning and submit work in a block in the following academic year.
    • Scheduling course delivery so that there are specific days left clear in the timetable throughout the year for use for placement activity.
Exemplary Accomplished (Baseline) Promising Incomplete
Expending on the authentic scenarios and problems integrated into the curriculum, students are expected to regularly source and share authentic, often personal, examples of cases and learning within course delivery, enriching their peers’ and tutors’ learning and development.
Where appropriate to the course aims and outcomes, the course seeks to create a learning environment within which relevant professional values and working methods are replicated.
External stakeholders such as employers and service users are an integral part of the course’s learning community, contributing to and challenging students’ learning and assessment across much of the programme.

There is extensive use of authentic scenarios, case studies and problems to enrich planned learning activity and assessment throughout the course, and students have opportunities to provide their own examples for discussion and to use within assessment tasks.

The course integrates many opportunities for students to interact constructively with external stakeholders as part of planned learning activity.

Students have opportunities to work with or for employers in the completion of graduate level activity pertinent to their specialist subject.

Opportunities for work-based or placement learning are taken up by the majority of students and are integral to the overall curriculum.

Many modules employ authentic case studies or problems in delivery and there is occasional use within assessment activity.

Interaction with external stakeholders is integral to the students’ planned learning experience within elements of the course.

Opportunities for work-based or placement learning are included in the curriculum and form a effective link between taught content and practice.

Scenarios and examples from practice, employment, or other pertinent contexts are included in the delivery and assessment of some modules.

The course facilitates opportunities for the students to interact with relevant external stakeholders such as employers or service users.

Placement or work-based learning opportunities are promoted and facilitated within the course.