Curriculum design calls for an understanding of how people learn, a consideration of the principles and models of design including alignment with learning outcomes, activities and assessments.
Learning & teaching quality standards & frameworks
Curriculum design involves consideration of VU and external contexts.
Australian Qualifications Framework
Courses are designed to align with the appropriate Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) level.
The VU Block Model
Courses are designed within the Course Architecture framework. The framework outlines a systematic method for course design which guides student choices to modules of defined unit sets that provide a coherent body of knowledge.
Courses align with professional accrediting bodies (where required) to allow successful students admission into professional fields, industries or professional bodies that have standards or accreditation requirements. Key steps and responsibilities to ensure this alignment are outlined in the Courses Lifecycle Course Review (Professional Accreditation-Recognition) Procedure.
VU Quality & Standards Framework
The VU Quality and Standards Framework is a guiding tool for assuring quality and standards in learning and teaching. The Framework is a component of the Learning and Teaching Quality and Standards Policy. This is covered in more detail under About Learning and Teaching at VU.
Course design, approval, monitoring and review are guided by the Courses Lifecycle Policy. All new courses and units, changes to existing courses and discontinuation of courses must be approved by the University. For course management and approval processes, please see Course Management and Quality.
All courses and units are developed by teaching teams and entered into Course Approval Management System for progression through the approvals process. Approved courses and units are the only versions for delivery.
VU courses are comprised of units of study that may be used across a number of courses. Any changes to a single unit may impact its alignment and relationship within the whole course. Units will routinely be changed as part of continuous improvement, Annual Course Monitoring, Comprehensive Course Review and in response to student feedback.
Writing assessment tasks
The key to writing assessment tasks for unit outlines is to keep the tasks simple, clear and reasonable in scope.
Assessment tasks should meet the learning outcomes for the unit, and provide a clear basis on which to judge student achievement across learning domains.
It is important to consult the VU Assessment for learning policy and the associated procedures when writing assessment tasks. These procedures set out the minimum expectations regarding assessment.
For further information on assessments, see Assessment and feedback.
Creating learning outcomes
Learning outcomes are the statements of what specific knowledge and skills students will be required to learn, apply and demonstrate.
Learning outcomes apply at course level as well as the individual unit level. The course has a distinct set of learning outcomes that broadly describe what students must achieve in order to successfully complete the course. Unit learning outcomes are more specific and define what students must successfully accomplish in order to complete the unit.
The following trigger questions will assist you in developing learning outcomes.
- What kind of knowledge will students use?
- What skills will the students develop?
- What will students do in the course or unit to demonstrate their knowledge and skills?
The unit learning outcomes should relate to the course learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment tasks. The outcomes should reflect the appropriate level of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and meet any specific accreditation requirements or industry standards.
Learning outcomes must be clear, succinct, measurable, and avoid repetition. They are generally, but not exclusively, structured in three parts following a standard stem. For example, ‘At the successful conclusion of this course (or unit), students should be able to..’. The three parts are:
- what knowledge students will use
- what skills students will apply
- the contexts in which they will be able to apply them.
Each learning outcome must commence with an active verb (or more than one). See Learning Outcome Verbs for AQF levels 4-10 for suggestions of learning outcomes together with the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy for suggestions on combining knowledge with other domains. Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives is frequently used to assist people to write learning objectives as it provides a hierarchical structure of verbs from lower order thinking through to higher order thinking.
Unit learning outcomes
Unit learning outcomes are developmental towards the course AQF level. For example, in a Bachelor degree units and AQF levels should align approximately as follows.
- Year 1 units with AQF level 5
- Year 2 units with AQF level 6
- Year 3 units with AQF level 7.
The learning outcomes should reflect what is being assessed. At a unit level it is normal to see about 4 to 6 learning outcomes.
Course learning outcomes
Course learning outcomes are very similar to unit level learning outcomes. They are a summary description of the expected knowledge, skills and application (including if relevant, accreditation requirements) of students at the conclusion of the experience. However, unlike unit learning outcomes, course learning outcomes are a high-level summary of the breadth and depth of student learning over the period of the course.
Each set of course learning outcomes should meet the appropriate AQF level and be tailored to the specific course experience and accreditation requirements where applicable. The AQF has identified the learning outcomes criteria and descriptors for each AQF level and qualification (page 11) and provides a useful guide for describing the learning outcomes in your unit and/or course. They are expressed in terms of knowledge, skills and the application of knowledge and skills.
At course level it is usual to see 6-8 holistic/integrated learning outcomes.
For courses that have exit points (e.g. Graduate Certificate AQF8, leading to a Graduate Diploma AQF8, in turn leading to a Masters AQF9) each exit qualification should have its own set of learning outcomes. Even if exit qualifications are at the same AQF level, some progression of the learning outcomes must be explicit.
The concept of 'constructive alignment' underpins curriculum design at Victoria University. Constructive alignment, a term coined by John Biggs, is popular in curriculum design and has been embraced and practiced widely across the higher education sector.
Constructive alignment involves two principles:
- a constructivist theory of learning, which recognises that ‘knowledge is constructed by the activities of the learner’ (Biggs, 2014, page 9) rather than being directly transferable from teacher to student
- the alignment between the intended learning outcomes of the unit, the teaching/learning activities and the assessment tasks.
In constructive alignment we systematically align the teaching/learning activities, as well as the assessment tasks, to the intended learning outcomes. This is done by requiring the students to engage the learning activities required in the outcomes.
Biggs and Tang, 2011, p11
A constructively aligned curriculum is one in which all key aspects of the curriculum are consistent and supportive of each other. A unit that features genuine constructive alignment is clear about the intended learning outcomes. The assessment tasks link to the learning outcomes. Students know that by engaging in the learning and teaching activities, they will have the best chance to perform well in the assessment tasks.
Constructive alignment requires mapping the learning outcomes and assessments for each unit against all other units in a course. This mapping ensures that the unit learning outcomes align with the whole course learning outcomes.
Assessments are developmental and varied in nature across the course and they align to the learning outcomes. Therefore, changes to a unit may have an impact on the rest of the course.
Support for development and changes to curriculum design is available from the Connected Learning team.
In course and unit design, we start with the course ‘learning outcomes’. These should be expressed in terms of the behaviours we want of students: expressing their fundamental knowledge and skills, and more importantly, being able to apply this knowledge.
Then we determine what assessment tasks will best assist the students to learn and measure the achievement of those outcomes. For example:
- an essay or report
- a portfolio of evidence or a journal
- short answer questions or a quiz
- a presentation or performance.
Decide which learning and teaching approaches will best support student learning. These may include:
- role plays and group discussion
- online discussion boards, reading and watching videos
- observing an expert perform the skill, then practising, either in a real or simulated environment
- a short answer written exercise
- an open book test.
The constructive alignment process is iterative and there is movement in all directions between the three main sections:
- learning outcomes
- teaching and learning experiences
- assessment task.