When designing for postgraduate units in the Block, start with a holistic course-level approach to design. This involves applying a backward design approach with a close eye on the AQF. Keep in mind that you are preparing learners for professional practice, so the learning design should enable them to:

  • make independent judgements in a range of technical and management functions
  • initiate, plan and evaluate
  • act with responsibility, autonomy and accountability
  • demonstrate creativity and initiative in new situations in professional practice (AQF 2013).

Learners at post-graduate level need to think critically and communicate effectively, be self-directed learners and process and transfer learning to their professional practice/work. The key is focused and meaningful interaction, and increased self-learning and responsibility for the learner. 

 Three people studying a document

Depth & breadth of learning

Include opportunities to explore both breadth and depth of learning in the curriculum, spiraling to increase advancement and complexity in knowledge. There should be a focused collection of topics that are interrelated and have breadth and depth within and across the disciplines.

Breadth of learning refers to the full span of knowledge of a topic or discipline area, by including learning across the curriculum, across the unit and across the course.

Depth of learning refers to the extent to which specific topics are explored independently or collaboratively that facilitates further development of concepts. This allows learners to take responsibility for their own learning and pursue their own interests.

  • Carefully time and pace activities and assessments to assist with transferring learning to real world situations.
  • Deliberately scaffold learning to draw on previous units and personal experiences.
  • Create open assessment tasks that are overarching across the whole course. Ensure that assessments in each unit draw on previous units and learners’ experiences.
  • Use capstone and placement units to draw the breadth of learning together.

  • Create tasks and conditions to provide a foundation for development of formal subject matter.
  • Cover key concepts in-depth rather than many topics superficially, prioritising material that focuses on the learning outcomes and monitoring breadth of coverage while balancing depth required.
  • Consider the growth of students’ thinking – build from facts, concepts, and processes to interrelationships and creativity/innovation.
  • Use regular formative assessments and reflection to foster self-assessment and help learners monitor their own learning·
  • Focus on fostering metacognitive skills by designing activities and assessments that draw on metacognitive thinking to deepen understanding and foster independent learning.
  • Promote metacognition at all levels. At the start, give students basic questions that interrogate a problem and create space for further thinking.
  • Foster reflection by asking questions that challenge learners to demonstrate how and why; engage them to examine, explain causes, connections, consequences, reasons, relationships, and results; and prompt them to think creatively about ‘what if’ and future implications.
  • Facilitate a culture of collaboration and collective responsibility based on teamwork and peer learning.

Activities to promote depth of learning

Practical investigations:

  • Design and conduct a study to test a device.

Use secondary sourced data:

  • Make a documentary or media report
  • Conduct a literature review.
  • Develop an environmental management plan.
  • Analyse a work of art.

Create an artefact:

  • Working model
  • Portfolio.


  • Engagement with community experts.

Data analysis:

  • Analyse data from various sources and interpret to new contexts.

Connect to the profession

Create opportunities to make connections with the profession/industry by maintaining a focus on the core attributes required in that profession.  

  • Embed professional learning that is collaborative and inquiry focused.
  • Use contemporary readings, documents and resources sourced from professional bodies.
  • Draw on contemporary experts in the field, using role models and exemplars from the profession.
  • Embed opportunities to visit professional settings and learn from experts on the job.
  • Create networking opportunities to build or extend connections in the industry.
  • Incorporate real world multi-faceted problems from the profession with opportunities to respond to uncertainty and to innovate.

Assessment & feedback

Take a structured approach to assessment design that aligns with the requirements of accreditation bodies, VU values and policies, and course and unit learning outcomes (CLOs and ULOs). Use open-ended assessments that give students scope to investigate and interpret complex ideas and concepts. Avoid the use of reproductive activities, multiple choice, short answer and closed book exams as these have limited value in evidencing the independence and creativity expected of a post graduate learner. Consider the benefits of a task related to real-world practice undertaken over a period of time rather than invigilated assessment testing theoretical knowledge done under time pressure. 

Work with employers and professional bodies to design assessments that look like workplace tasks in order to prepare learners for professional practice. Consider assessments that: 

  • are developmental, to explore depth and breadth
  • are realistic, contextualised and motivating
  • shift the focus from acquiring knowledge to acquiring and applying transferable skills in realistic situations
  • simulate authentic workplace situations that call on independent judgements in a range of technical and management functions and involve decisions or solutions that must be justified to non-technical audiences.

Design assessments to be inclusive, accessible and usable by everyone to the greatest possible extent. Leverage peer assessment, opportunities to give feedback and communicate improvement-oriented comments. To promote a culture of academic integrity among learners, create personalised assessment tasks that design out the opportunity to buy essays (contract cheating) or any forms of plagiarism and/or cheating.  

We recommend taking a strategic approach to collecting and analysing data about assessments (who, what, when etc), as well as the assessment data itself, to help long-term planning and generate new insights. Use assessment data to explore opportunities where continuous assessment could improve the learning experience. 

Design learning environments that provide feed forward opportunities and allow for students to make evaluative judgements, provide feedback and act in response to feedback. Assessments should be developmental so that learning can happen through the uptake of feedback. Involve students in constructing, giving and receiving feedback and making judgments in relation to quality. Plan opportunities for students to integrate feedback into subsequent assessments.

Provide actionable feedback for learners by making use of rubrics with focused criteria and clear levels of performance for grading assessments. For efficiency, build in feed-forward comments in the VU Collaborate rubric tool (these comments can be easily personalised as required).

Readings & resources

Academic readings must be at the forefront, directly aligned with the learning outcomes. If you lecture the textbook or go over the readings, students will not read them, but rely on taking notes from your oral explanation.

Assist the learner to take a deep approach to reading by applying strategies that:

  • use higher-order cognitive skills such as analyse, synthesise, solve problems, and think meta-cognitively in order to negotiate meanings with the author and to construct new meaning from the text
  • highlight the author's message, the ideas in the message, the line of argument, and the structure of the argument
  • connect to already known concepts and principles and use this understanding for problem solving in new contexts.

Acknowledge your learner cohort as a resource to promote co-creation of knowledge, content, concepts and connections. Draw on the strengths of learners and their varied background and diverse experiences by involving them as partners in the teaching process, e.g. pose questions in a Padlet for learners to contribute drawing on their individual backgrounds and knowledge.

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