Block Mode recognises, respects and accommodates the complexity of student lives and facilitates a predictable, manageable and connected university experience.

 

McCluskey, T., Weldon, J., & Smallridge,A. (2019). Rebuilding the first year experience, one block at a time. A Practice Report. Student Success, 10(1), 1-15.

 

Block Celebration

Overview of the VU Block Model

We are the first Australian university to use a 'block' model of learning, which builds a degree program from units studied in sequential blocks, across all undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

In the model, students complete one unit at a time, then move to the next. The block is characterised by three half-day teaching sessions per week, delivered in small classes rather than large lecture halls. Assessments are completed within each block.

Introduced in 2018, the VU Block was a tailored Frist Year Model emphasising connections, community and a sense of belonging to the university. In 2019, these students moved into second year where deeper engagement with discipline and specialisations are fostered. From 2020, third and fourth year students continue their learning journey in small classes, consolidating external relationships relevant to their careers.

All students take part in Essential activities, through our Learning Hubs. First year students engage in Study Essentials, academic writing and numeracy as well as core skills for each discipline. Second year students complete Course Essentials, which support students through assessments and their course. Final year students pursue Future Essentials in preparation for their careers and further study.

So far, the VU Block Model has delivered exceptional results, with pass rates and academic achievements such as high distinctions up across the board. The model has won awards for innovation and excellence.

Block Model design

The VU Block model is designed around the learning needs of our culturally diverse population of students and our powerful moral purpose - to provide vocational and higher education that transforms the lives of our students and communities.

The model is structured around the idea that deep, active learning happens when students focus on one or two subjects at a time and work in small classes. The small class size supports cohorts that work with and help each other in a community where everyone is known and respected.

Other advantages include a greater student choice and flexibility about what they study when, as well as better preparedness for professional roles. Students start each Block with a clear understanding of what needs to be done when, and develop transferrable skills across the curriculum with supported, complementary activities. Active learning in the Block ensures that every student has plenty of practice in skills-based training, complex decision-making, problem solving, and teamwork.

Focus on one or two subjects
The model is structured around deep, active learning.

Work in small classes
Active learning ensures that students have plenty of practice in skills-based training, complex decision-making, problem solving, and teamwork.

Build learning communities
Students help each other in a community where everyone is known and respected.

Transferable skills
Transferrable skills are developed across the curriculum through complementary activities.

Design, development & teaching

All Block units have been designed and developed by a multi-skilled team approach that brings together academics, learning designers, students, librarians and student support (Learning Hub) specialists. We come together to build consistent, student-centred units that blend digital learning possibilities with face-to-face and remote learning activities. The unit design model and design process is supported by a Project Management team that ensures product quality, efficient use of time and resources, and the successful achievement of student engagement and learning.

The design model has its foundation in the Block Principles, which call on evidence-based practices that have a proven high impact on student learning.

These principles ensure that Block units:

Small-class workshops are designed around active learning, not lectures. 

A variety of learning opportunities and assessment tasks accommodate student diversity and build depth and breadth of learning. 

 

Immersive sessions have clear beginnings and conclusions linked to pre-/post-class activities and conclude with de-briefings of the learning. This consistent structure supports student learning while also ensuring a predictable workload and study commitment that helps with stress and makes it easier for students to manage other responsibilities. 

In Block mode, students are set challenging authentic tasks, then strongly supported in a small class environment to achieve them. 

All learning is connected with long-term goals, so it is relevant and meaningful. This counters the fragmentation of learning and ensures that learning is memorable. 

Early feedback (summative and formative) helps student calibrate their performance and teaches them skills in self-regulation and feedback literacy.

We understand that students learn best when they harness the power of their own journey.

We scaffold students’ to independently recognise personal strengths, weaknesses appropriateness of responses to tasks.

The Block experience

Results of the Block

Stunning results for non-traditional students

When the Block was implemented at VU in 2018, data showed that students studying in Block Mode tended to outperform those studying in the previous 2017 12-week semester mode.

The results also show that the gap between non-traditional groups and their traditional counterparts has reduced under Block Mode study (Cleary & Samarawickrema, 2021).

Block studies and publications

Ambler, T. (2019). Evaluation of the First Year Model: Insights from Year One. Melbourne: Victoria University.

Cleary, K. & Samarawickrema, G. (2021). Block mode study: Opportunities and challenges for a new generation of learners in An Australian university. Student Success, 12(1).

McCluskey, T., Weldon, J., & Smallridge, A. (2019). Rebuilding the first year experience, one block at a time. Feature Practice Report. Student Success, 10(1), 1-15.doi: 10.5204/ssj.v10i1.1048.

McCluskey, T., Smallridge, A., Weldon, J., Loton, D., Samarawickrema, G. & Cleary, K. (2020). Building on the VU Block foundations: Results from the inaugural first year cohort. In E. Heinrich and R. Bourke (Eds.), Research and Development in Higher Education: Next generation, Higher Education: Challenges, Changes and Opportunities, 42 (pp 61 – 72).