Curriculum design and enrichment

What School processes are involved?

Before starting to design your new course or programme it would be useful to review School policy and gain an overview of the various processes involved.

Do you want to design:

Having reviewed the processes involved it would be useful to compile a preliminary timetable that will allow you to complete the processes within the planned timescale.

The next step is to engage with the key issues that should underpin curriculum design.

Curriculum design based on constructive alignment

Any framework for curriculum design is most effective when mapped across the whole student learning experience i.e. at programme level.

As such, if you are designing a new course rather than programme you will find it helpful to discuss the programme/s of which your course will be a part with relevant colleagues. 

In terms of thinking across a programme and how individual courses fulfil a particular role within the programme, you may find the model of ‘student as scholar’ useful (Hodge et al., 2008). This model focuses on students’ sense of identity and how this is shaped by their relationship with knowledge to inform curriculum design.

“…progressing from an instructional paradigm that emphasizes telling students what they need to know, to a learning paradigm that emphasizes inquiry in shaping how students learn what they need to know within the traditional academic context, and culminating in a discovery paradigm that encourages students to seek and discover new knowledge, emphasizing inquiry with no boundaries.”

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The student as scholar model (adapted from Hodge et al., 2009)

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Although this model lends itself most readily to thinking about a three-year undergraduate degree programme, it can be adapted to think about progression through any period of study at any level.

Why do I need to ensure that my course/programme is constructively aligned?

The framework of constructive alignment (Biggs, 1996) focuses on three key elements of curriculum design:

  • Intended learning outcomes - what should the students know or be able to do?
  • Teaching and learning activities - how will the students learn?
  • Assessment - how will learning be measured?

The three minute video below outlines the arguments that underpin this framework.

As discussed in the video, from the students’ perspective a constructively aligned course or programme ensures that they have every opportunity to learn effectively and achieve the ILOs successfully. 

Biggs (2003) has also discussed how constructive alignment addresses the possibility of students adopting a ‘strategic’ approach to learning i.e. students learning what they think they will be tested on.

In a poorly aligned system, where the assessment does not reflect the ILOs, this may result in inappropriate surface learning. On the other hand if students attempt to adopt a strategic approach in an aligned system where the assessment requirements mirror the ILOs, there is no problem. Students will be learning what they are supposed to be learning.

How do I ensure that I am making the best use of the links between teaching and research?

Whilst the existence and intrinsic value of the positive link between teaching and research is often assumed, what is sometimes less clear is how this positive link should be operationalised in terms of curriculum design. A number of models of the ‘teaching research nexus’ have been developed that will help you map your course/programme content and identify any areas that may need further development. An assumption that underpins each of these models is that whilst research-led teaching - structured around subject content, and the content selected is directly based on the research interests of teaching staff - has its place in curriculum design, for learners to develop a more sophisticated understanding of disciplinary content they need to engage in active and experiential learning.

Possibly the most well-known model of the teaching research nexus, developed by Healey and Jenkins (2009), is shown below.

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Possible connections between undergraduate research and inquiry (Healey, M and Jenkins, A, 2009)

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In addition to research led teaching (outlined above) Healey and Jenkins outlined three other points of connection between teaching and research:

  • Teaching can be research-oriented - the curriculum supports students in understanding the processes by which knowledge is produced rather than just learning the codified knowledge that has been achieved. Careful attention is given to the teaching of inquiry skills and on acquiring a ‘research ethos’.
  • Teaching can be research-tutored – the curriculum includes activities that support discussion and critique of research projects and methods.
  • Teaching can be research-based - the curriculum includes inquiry-based activities, rather than just the acquisition of subject content and the experiences of staff in processes of inquiry are highly integrated into the student learning activities.

Although the focus in this section is on course/programme design in order to illustrate each aspect of the model it may be useful to look at an example taken from Healey and Jenkins’ paper that maps this at a topic level.

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Examples of teaching and learning activities that illustrate the different aspects of teaching research nexus

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It is perhaps worth highlighting that this example is illustrative, and you are not expected to include activities relating to each of the four quadrants in one session, or even necessarily in a single course.

Levy (2009) proposed a similar matrix that also included staff-led and student-led vertical axis, whilst the horizontal axis distinguishes between information-led (existing knowledge) and discovery-led (new knowledge) inquiry.

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Levy’s (2009) version of the teaching research nexus model

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It is worth reiterating at this point that both Healey and Jenkins and Levy stated that whilst activities relating to all four quadrants of their models should be included in the design of new curricula, those relating to the top two quadrants more fully exploit the links between teaching and research and have the greatest potential to enhance students’ learning.

For further guidance on how to use intended learning outcomes, teaching and learning activities and a valid assessment strategy to make best use of the links between teaching and research, please see the ‘What are the individual elements of course and programme design?’ section of these webpages.

How do I ensure that inclusive practice underpins the course/ programme development?

Whilst one of the aims of developing inclusive practice is to ensure that the LSE meets its legal obligations under The Equality Act 2010 ,a comprehensive approach to inclusive practice moves beyond this focus. Adopting this more holistic conceptualisation of inclusive practice involves:

  • not only recognising the diversity of the student population, but aiming to use this diversity as an asset in learning and teaching;
  • acknowledging our responsibility to enable all students to actively engage with their learning; and,
  • seeking to support students to challenge themselves, the School and the wider world through independent and critical thinking.

Each of these ideas is unpacked in more detail below, and guidance on how to operationalise each of them within curriculum design is given in ‘What are the individual elements of course and programme design?’ section of these webpages. What I would like to highlight at this point, however, is the foundational idea that underpins the notion of inclusive practice, and that is that diversity should not be viewed as something that must be ‘compensated’ for rather that difference is valuable and should be utilised.

Diversity as an asset

Weller (2016) argues that the texts, concepts, ideas and theorists that make up a curricula should be viewed as artefacts that are “historically, contextually and socially situated” (p.149), and when auditing the curricula for inclusivity we need to ask:

  • Whose perspective and values does the curriculum put forward?
  • Is the curriculum relevant and meaningful to a broader range of learners?
  • Who does the curriculum include and who does it exclude?

In addition to asking questions like these, however, if we are going to view the students’ diverse backgrounds as an asset we need to also focus on how we engage with students in the classroom. As such, we need to include key questions that focus specifically on this aspect of curriculum design, such as:

  • How does the course seek to incorporate the knowledge & understanding brought to it by students from diverse backgrounds?
  • How are students given the opportunity to analyse and recognise their own tacit knowledge and the influence of their experiences and cultural identity?
  • How does the course enable other knowledge/perspectives to be recognised and valued?
  • In what ways are students helped to examine their own values, compare them with the values of others, and engage in respectful debate where differences occur?

(Killick, 2005)

Enabling active engagement

As mentioned above, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Unit (EDI) provides details of our responsibilities under the Equality Act of 2010. The Disability and Well-Being Service can advise on student inclusion plans and reasonable adjustments.

Although there will be circumstances where specific adjustments will have to be made, the need for adjustments can be minimised through appropriate curriculum design.

For example, one area of teaching and learning that can be problematic for students with specific learning differences (SpLD) or Asperger syndrome is working in groups, and particularly project-based group work.

Time management can be a particular issue for students with SpLD and if other group members decide to leave the work to the last minute the student with SpLD may be doubly penalized. Changes in routine can result in confusion and upset for students with Asperger syndrome and may give rise to behaviour others find challenging. Strategies that can mitigate against these issues are requiring groups to compile time tables for group work and to produce minutes of group meetings, which include assigned action points. In some cases producing these documents and reflecting on the processes have formed part of the assessed output.

Whilst these strategies may have been developed originally with the intention of facilitating the engagement of disabled students, it has been shown to have beneficial effects for all students (Weller, 2016).

Supporting independent and critical thinking

In addition to interpreting critical thinking skills in qualification characteristics statements and subject benchmarking statements, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), identifies a number of themes that cross disciplinary boundaries and which may be considered to have a broad relevance to the purposes of higher education and its wider context in society. One of these themes is education for sustainable development (ESD).

The QAA (2014) defines ESD as:

“…the process of equipping students with the knowledge and understanding, skills and attributes needed to work and live in a way that safeguards environmental, social and economic wellbeing, both in the present and for future generations.” (p.7).

In its guidance on how ESD should be integrated into the curriculum to meet the requirements of The Quality Code for Higher Education, the QAA states that students should be supported to:

  • consider what the concept of global citizenship means in the context of their own discipline and in their future professional and personal lives
  • consider what the concept of environmental stewardship means in the context of their own discipline and in their future professional and personal lives
  • think about issues of social justice, ethics and wellbeing, and how these relate to ecological and economic factors
  • develop a future-facing outlook; learning to think about the consequences of actions, and how systems and societies can be adapted to ensure sustainable futures.

It is perhaps worth noting at this point the similarities between the aims of ESD and the School’s mission statement.

“Our mission is to advance knowledge in social science and a range of related fields so as to inform public policy, economic decision-making, and social welfare both nationally and globally. This means nurturing creative thought and intellectual exploration and educating students from all backgrounds and around the world to be critical thinkers and skilled professionals who work for the betterment of society.”

LSE Strategy 2020

For further guidance on how to use intended learning outcomes, teaching and learning activities and a valid assessment strategy to integrate inclusive practice into your curriculum, please see the ‘What are the individual elements of course and programme design?’ section of these webpages.

What are the individual elements of course and programme design?

How do I write effective learning outcomes?

One of the most commonly used models used to write effective intended learning outcomes (ILOs) is Bloom’s taxonomy (1956). There are a number of different representations of the taxonomy, but all of these illustrate the cognitive domains identified by Bloom and his team.

In some representations the domains distinctions are made between those shown at the bottom of the pyramid (‘lower domains’) and those shown at the top (‘higher domains’). Whilst this distinction might be useful in terms of deciding which domains might be most relevant to a particular level of study, you should bear in mind that the cognitive domains were intended as a progressive model i.e. it would be difficult for students to use information in new situations (apply) if they haven’t already developed their skills in explaining ideas and concepts (understanding).

When writing ILOs you should first identify the aims for your course/programme – the core knowledge, skills and values you want the students to develop. Using the model of Bloom’s taxonomy shown below you can map the knowledge, skills and values to the cognitive domains. The verbs shown to the right-hand side of this model can be used as a guide to help you translate your aims into ILOs. It will also help you structure your ILOs if you write them in the form of bullet points following the stem sentence ‘By the end of the course/programme the students will be able to:’

Example (taken from M-Level course in Behavioural Science):

By the end of the course the students will be able to:

  • Identify and discuss the methodological tools across experimental psychology and economics that are essential for designing advanced behavioural science research.
  • Apply these tools in their own research, which should propel them to produce top-quality research for their dissertations.
  • Analyse experimental data that probed causal mechanisms behind behavioural change.
  • Evaluate the quality of advanced research publications in behavioural science.
  • Create their own experiments that involve behavioural priming, implicit cognition, preferences, attitudes, strategic games, etc. and/or probe mechanisms behind causal effects in behavioural research.
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Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy of educational objectives

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To be effective ILOs should be:

  • Active – they describe what students can do
  • Attractive – students want to achieve them
  • Comprehensible – students know what they means
  • Appropriate – to the student’s current goals and career plans
  • Attainable – most students will mostly meet them, with due effort
  • Assessable – we can see if they have been achieved
  • Visible – in the course guides, on the relevant Moodle sites and reiterated during lectures/seminars.

What types of teaching and learning activities will support the students in achieving these learning outcomes?

You can find further guidance and support on the Pedagogies and strategies section of this website.

How do I design assessment strategies that are valid and reliable?

The LSE Assessment Toolkit contains detailed descriptions of a range of assessment methods.

The most useful starting point in terms of course/programme design will be the sections of the toolkit that focus on mapping assessment across programmes and on selecting assessment methods that support the development of certain skills. The latter section is particularly useful for checking that the methods of assessment you choose are relevant to the intended learning outcomes for the course or programme. Once you have considered the issues discussed in those two sections of the website, you should then explore the individual assessment methods in more detail

Before making any final decisions about your assessment strategy you should familiarise yourself with the issues discussed in the ‘Accessible assessment’ section of the toolkit and consider how these might impact on your course/programme design.


Where can I get further advice and support?

Each academic department at the LSE has its own dedicated Eden Centre departmental advisers, who have a wide range of expertise and are available to work with colleagues on any teaching or learning related matter.


Biggs, J (1996) ‘Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment’, Higher Education, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 347-364

Bloom, B.S. (Ed.). Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H., Krathwohl, D.R. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Healey, M and Jenkins, A (2009) Developing undergraduate research and inquiry. York: Higher Education Academy.

Hodge, D, Haynes, C, LePore, P, Pasquesi, K, and Hirsh, M (2008) From inquiry to discovery: developing the student as scholar in a networked world, Keynote address, Learning Through Enquiry Alliance Inquiry in a Networked World Conference, June 25-27, University of Sheffield, Available online: Accessed 16.08.17

Killick, D. (2005) Cross-Cultural Capability and Global Perspectives: Guidelines for Curriculum Review, Available online: Accessed 24.08.17

Levy, P. (2009) Inquiry-based learning: a conceptual framework (version 4). Centre for Inquiry-based Learning in the Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sheffield.

QAA (2014) Education for Sustainable Development: Guidance to UK Higher Education Providers, Available Online Accessed 25.08.17

Weller, S (2016) Academic Practice: Developing as a Professional in Higher Education, London, Sage Publications