Principles of program design

There are many different approaches to designing a whole program of study. Curriculum design, program design, program mapping and benchmarking are all terms used when considering the development, or redevelopment of multiple courses and how they interact with each other to form a program. Program design is usually a process undertaken with a group of academics and staff with relevant expertise (eg: industry, learning designers, academic staff and students) over a period of time as part of a three to five year review. Whether it be for accreditation purposes, standard university review processes, or to address identified issues, there are a number of considerations.

  • Take a backwards design approach: Have a clear picture of what a graduate of the program needs to be able to do, feel and know, and work backwards from that point to unpack the content that needs to be covered and the learning outcomes that need to be achieved to get there.
  • Consider the sequencing of the program. What are the prerequisites, how does the program need to be sequenced to ensure knowledge and skills essential at the beginning of later courses are covered in earlier courses and linked as prerequisites.
  • Scaffold the learning. Both within units and across whole programs it is important to provide initial support to guide students through mastery of foundational concepts and skills and to move them towards more independent, critical and reflective work. Examples may include research skills, writing skills, use of learning technologies, and peer review processes.
  • AQF level. Ensure the knowledge, skills and volume of learning is appropriate for the AQF level for the given qualification type.
  • Vary the assessment approaches between courses. Don’t have every course within a program use the same type of assessment. Vary the assessment approaches between courses and think about how assessments could build across the duration of a year or program.
  • Ensure work, examples and assessments are up-to-date and situated within real-world experiences. Where possible make connections to industry and workplaces and develop authentic assessment practices to better prepare work-ready graduates.
  • Ensure intended learning outcomes, learning activities and assessments are constructively aligned in line with Federation University Policy.
  • The accreditation needs for specific vocational programs, e.g. nursing, education etc. Refer to your School and accrediting body for more information.

Whilst many teaching staff may not have the opportunity to participate in a whole program design, it is important to understand the considerations that have shaped individual courses, and why changes to individual courses need to be considered in relation to the whole program.

Resources, strategies or assistance

Resources - Text/articles

  • Lattuca, L. & Stark, J. (2009). Shaping the College Curriculum: Academic Plans in Context.
  • Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition

Resources - Websites