Institute for Academic Development
Institute for Academic Development

Course & programme design

Resources and advice on designing programmes, courses and curricula.

Careful attention to how programmes, courses and curricula are designed can make a real difference to the student learning experience. Good programme and course design are not one-off events, these are iterative processes. You will need to try out an initial design in your particular context with diverse groups of students then adapt it based on your students’ learning and their feedback.

New to course or programme design (or want a refresher)?

Here are some different options for getting support with your course and programme design work.

The IAD offer short two hour workshops on course and programme design within our “Practical Strategies For …” series of events.

Practical Strategies workshops - find out more & book

If you would like more structured support for designing new programmes and courses or to undertake a redesign of a programme or course, you might be interested in the Edinburgh Leading Design Roadmap (ELDeR) 2-3 day workshops led by IAD and Information Services (undertaken as a programme or course team). The Learning Design service in IS also offer some shorter course planning workshops.

Learning Design service (Information Services website)

If you would prefer to consider course and programme design as part of your broader development as a teacher and receive recognition as a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy then you could apply for the Edinburgh Teaching Award offered by the Institute for Academic Development.

Edinburgh Teaching Award - find out more

You could also sign up for the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice offered by the IAD and the School of Education. This is a 60 credit postgraduate level course which also gives Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. This is the most time consuming of the options on this list but very useful if you have a deeper interest in learning and teaching.

Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice - find out more

We have provided some further resources and key ideas for the design process below.

Useful resources

University resources

The IAD and Information Services offer a wide range of other workshops on learning and teaching which may give you ideas for your programme and course design:

IAD learning & teaching workshops

Future Teacher workshops (Information Services)

Other useful University information includes:

IAD Inclusive curriculum resources

University Curriculum Framework and Programme and Course Approval processes (Academic Services)

University Programme and Course Approval Policy (PDF)

University's Graduate Attributes

This video about Community makes some really important points for course and programme design

External resources

Advance HE resource on inclusive curriculum design

National qualifications framework for Scotland, SCQF

Quality Assurance Agency - Subject benchmark statements

Designing courses for higher education - e-book

The revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (helpful for thinking about what could be in your learning outcomes)

Information on constructive alignment (a common approach to course design)

Key points for the design process

Lots has been written about programme and course design but here are a few initial ideas to bear in mind when you are working on this:

  • Start by thinking hard about how you want your students to be at the end of your programme or course. Do you want them to be more informed and critical citizens? Do you want them to think like a scientist? Do you want them to have a better imagined understanding of diverse peoples’ perspectives?
  • When you’ve got the big picture, can you come up with some clear and helpful learning outcomes? These outcomes should say what students will be able to do at the end of your course and programme. Then you can design backwards from these outcomes to make sure your assessment really tests what you want students to learn and your teaching fits with this picture.
  • A crucial aspect of developing new curricula, programmes or courses is that you design in inclusion for all students from the very beginning. Are all of your students’ backgrounds represented in your course materials? Are you following University guidelines for mainstreaming learning adjustments. The recent Review of Support for Disabled Students within the University recommends that Schools involve the Student Disability Service and disabled students and staff during the course and assessment design process to make sure designs are inclusive from the outset.
  • Learning is usually best where students are actively involved in processing and making sense of what they are learning and where the learning feels authentic and meaningful for them. What will your students do during your course or programme? Will your learning activities mirror authentic practice in your field?
  • Think carefully about assessment and feedback design from the outset and aim to address assessment as, for and of learning in each course. (See our guidance on assessment and feedback for more details). Will your students understand how their feedback is relevant? Will your students get to practice new forms of assessment before they become high stakes?

>> Student assessment & feedback information from the IAD

>> Engaged in.. assessment and feedback (PDF)

  • Think carefully about progression and how your courses fit with previous and later courses. How will your students be able to use the feedback from your course to feed into later courses?
  • Ask around for existing information about students in your context. Is there feedback on other related courses which will give you a sense of students’ needs? Can you learn more about your students’ prior learning experiences? What can you find out about important dimensions of student diversity in your area?
  • Make sure you check out your local programme and course approval processes well in advance as there will be a set of key deadlines and paperwork that you need to know about.
  • Could you meaningfully include others in your course and programme design? Could you invite some current or previous students to be part of your curriculum design committee or have a focus group of students to ask for their perspectives and ideas for the course or programme?

Video - Introduction to Course & Programme Design

Watch a video (15 mins) from IAD's Dr Velda McCune:

Introduction to Course & Programme Design video (opens in Media Hopper)