Curriculum design in higher education using a learning outcome-led model : its influence on how students perceive learning
This thesis examines the potential of a learning outcome-led model of curriculum design to influence how students perceive learning in education studies within a modular context of a new university. It identifies and compares the conceptions of learning held by students and lecturers on traditional and outcome-led modules, and it explores and specifies the design factors which shape these conceptions. The issue is located within the interpretivist paradigm for the research seeks understanding which derives from the perceptions, attitudes and beliefs that students and their lecturers hold about learning in a given context. But the methodology employed is not wholly consistent with this paradigm, for a qualitative approach is complemented by the use of factor analysis techniques to facilitate the identification of the design features which influence how students perceive learning. The approach is thus eclectic drawing on quantitative methods to examine what is essentially qualitative data. An innovative model of learning outcome-led design is proposed, implemented and modified as a result of the research. The learner is placed at the centre of the learning experience which is defined as incorporating three domains: the teaching context; the assessment régime; and the directed learning undertaken by students outside of taught sessions. The model incorporates a trichotomy of outcomes which define the subject -specific, the transferable skills and the generic academic outcomes which influence directly both the content and process of learning, and which successful students are expected to achieve on completion of a module. The findings show that five design features influence how students perceive learning: the clarity of expectations; congruence between the content and process of each domain of the learning experience; direction in respect to the learning activities which should be undertaken in each domain to achieve the outcomes; and the content and process of the teaching context. The data suggest that a much higher profile should be given to metacognitive skills in curriculum development in HE because how students perceive both the process and the content of learning profoundly influences their conception of learning and, consistent with the underpinning theory, how they approach learning and therefore ultimately the kind of outcomes they achieve. The research leads to recommendations for the modification of the three models of learning in context; Ramsden (1988), Biggs (1990b) and Prosser (1995), which are presented and analysed in the thesis. The findings suggest that the learning experience should be redefined to specify the three domains - the teaching context, assessment régime and directed learning - and that clarity of expectations, metacognitive skills and congruence between the content and process of learning in each of the domains should be articulated as directly influencing students' conceptions of learning. The models should also seek to indicate that learning outcomes influence how students perceive learning, and that therefore they feature both at the starting point and as the end product of a contextualised learning process. The findings relating to students' conceptions of learning show that the study of outcome-led modules has resulted in a much greater degree of congruence between how lecturers and students perceive learning in a given module and that fewer students studying outcome-led modules hold a quantitative conception of learning. This suggests that the outcome-led model does have the potential to improve teaching and learning and consequently that there is an educational rationale for curriculum development premised on this model.