Modular Masters Development – Building Flexible Delivery into the Curriculum

Background

Masters level programmes are often delivered to diverse students populations; learners may be mature, in employment, seeking personal and professional development for promotion, from the local, regional or international areas. Flexibility is an issue that helps in recruitment as students will value being able to fit formal study into their complex lives. This paper briefly sets out a way in which modular curricula can be developed and delivered to increase ease of access for potential students in a resource friendly way.

Modular programmes

A module can be defined as ’a set of learning activities designed and organised to enable a student to meet a coherent set of learning outcomes’. It can be used synonymously with a unit of learning (BU’s preferred terminology) but the distinguishing feature of a modular programme of study is that the units of learning/ modules are not necessarily sequential and can be accessed in any order and lead to meeting the expected learning outcomes of the whole programme. The advantages of this approach include flexibility of start date of a programme (2 or 3 times a year depending on the university’s semester structure). This means the potential for increased recruitment numbers and the benefit for students of being able to adjust the order of units if life circumstances interfere.

What does Masters level mean?

Modular courses do not set out expectations of introductory, intermediate and more senior levels; the assumption is that the learning is at the same academic level throughout. This makes them particularly attractive at post graduate level when students have already developed expertise in meeting expectations of HE. All units/ modules on Masters level courses are at the same level (level 7); it is the adding together of the credits that takes the student from PGCert to PGDip to full Masters. The level of expectation and criteria for assessment do not change throughout this period.

How can coherence be achieved in this model?

Every delivery of the programme requires some introduction and context setting; once that is achieved, the pattern of studying the units can be in any order in a modular framework. The coherence is achieved through ensuring the ILOs at unit level build together to meet the overarching programme ILOs of the programme by the end. Normally there is an integrating element through a final dissertation/ project- that would normally be undertaken after all the taught units are completed (but in any order). A traditional delivery model could be:

Semester 1 (Sept start)- 2 day introduction to the course or online version

Module A                   Module B                   Module C

Semester 2

Module D                  Module E                   Module F

Semester 3

Research methods (module G)                 Double dissertation (module H)

 

Alternatively, students could follow this pattern:

Semester 2 (Jan start)- 2 day introduction to the course or online version

Module D                  Module E                   Module F

Summer break

Semester 1

Module A                   Module B                   Module C

Semester 3 (or sooner if this is delivered through online means)

Research methods (module G)                 Double dissertation (module H)

 

The other issue that will need to be considered is providing cohort identity so some kind of social event or social media intervention to help new entrants in January to integrate will help the sense of belonging.

Conclusion

This is a tried and tested model in many HEIs and can offer considerable benefits to students as well as being a resource friendly approach.

Professor B Gail Thomas
Head of the Centre for Excellence in Learning
May 2016

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