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Design of Programmes and Curricula for a Blended or Online Environment Policy

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Section 1 - Introduction


(1) In keeping with its mission to increase accessibility to higher professional education, Hibernia College provides programmes solely within blended or online environments. This policy sets out the College’s approach to the design of programmes. It also sets out the principles for curriculum design for such programmes


To whom does the policy apply?

(2) This policy applies to Hibernia College Staff and Faculty who are designing new programmes. These individuals are referred to as programme developers in this policy.

(3) It also applies to the Academic Board (AB) and Executive Management Team (EMT) when approving a programme or a proposal to develop a programme.

In what situations does the policy apply?

(4) The policy applies in the design and development of programmes being prepared for provision by Hibernia College.

(5) The policy applies where the programme is intended to lead to:

  1. An award by QQI
  2. An award of a professional, regulatory or other statutory body (PRSB)
  3. An award of a body recognised as providing State qualifications leading to awards in another jurisdiction
  4. Any non-formal award made by Hibernia College including those which form part of continuing professional development for any profession

(6) This policy applies to all programmes regardless of location of provision, mode of provision or disciplinary area.

Who is responsible for implementing the policy?

(7) The Academic Board is ultimately responsible for the implementation of this policy.


(8) Programme

programme of education and training refers to any process by which learners may acquire knowledge, skill or competence.
It includes courses of study or instruction, apprenticeships, training and employment. A programme offers learners the learning opportunities by which they may attain educational goals (expressed as the intended programme learning outcome) by learning activities in a learning environment. A programme is normally comprised of modules.
A programme leading to a major award will normally require a ‘cohesion generating’ process which integrates constituent modules so that the minimum intended programme learning outcomes are supported. The cohesion generating process should establish the epistemological and cultural identity of the programme. It should also coordinate alignment of activities with the minimum intended programme learning outcomes and introduce learners to the broader community of practice to which they aspire. (QQI (2013) Assessment and Standards Revised)

(9) Curriculum and Pedagogy

An article of Michael Young’s in 2014, ‘What is a curriculum and what can it do?’, discussed the concepts of curriculum and pedagogy. This extract has been used to present a way of thinking about curriculum and pedagogy when designing a programme: ‘…in designing curricula… an analytical distinction between the two concepts… [curriculum/pedagogy dichotomy] may be useful. …[T]he concept “curriculum” refers to the knowledge that it is hoped [learners] will acquire by the end of a course. In contrast, pedagogy refers to the activities that teachers devise for their [learners] to enable them to acquire the knowledge specified by the curriculum.’

(10) Module 

As set out in Assessment and Standards, a module is a programme of education and training of small volume. It is designed to be capable of being integrated with other modules into larger programmes. A module can be shared by different programmes. Some modules are designed to lead to minor or special-purpose awards. In describing the educational formation provided by an independent module, it is sufficient to specify
  1. the learning outcome and
  2. the assumed (i.e. minimum) prior learning (prerequisite learning). Assumed prior learning is sometimes specified by listing prerequisite modules.
Certain parameters are often used in the description of a module. These include an indication of the stage in the programme at which the module is offered and sometimes, where feasible, the module’s NFQ level (i.e., the level of the MIMLOs on the NFQ where the module is designed to lead to a minor award) and of the average (entry qualified) learner effort required to complete the module successfully (represented using ECTS). Note that it is not always feasible (or even meaningful) to assign an NFQ level to a module particularly for lower volume modules at higher levels in the NFQ.
To validate a programme, all modules must be considered together. Piecemeal validation (in isolation) of constituent modules within a larger programme cannot validate the larger programme. This is because the piecemeal process is blind to the joint effect of the modules, as well as to the ‘integration of learning and teaching’ that may be required. Note, also, that learning acquired through a sequence of modules depends on the order of the sequence.

(11) Blended Learning 

QQI adopted a Garrison and Kanuka (2004) definition of blended learning, which defines it as ‘the integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online learning experiences’. Hibernia College complements this broad definition by an understanding that blended learning should be characterised as falling along a continuum as proposed by Jones (2006). Such a conception can accommodate a range of blended learning approaches.

(12) Online Learning

‘Online learning’ is where a whole programme is provided online.
Notwithstanding the shared view of Chew, Jones and Turner (2008) that the Jones’ Continuum cannot be expressed in percentage terms, Hibernia College has adopted the concept deriving from the 2015 joint UNESCO publication Distance Education in European Higher Education – the Potential, Report 3 (of 3) of the IDEAL (Impact of Distance Education on Adult Learning) project that an online programme shall be deemed to notionally mean where greater than 80% is taught online. Notwithstanding the conceptual challenges in this definition, it shall be used pragmatically by the College in the context of developing programmes which are intended to be validated to lead to a QQI award.

(13) Programme Board

(14) Types of Provision

  1. Articulation Arrangement
  2. Collaborative Provision
  3. Franchising
  4. Transnational Provision

(15) Programme Development Due Diligence

Undertaking enquiries about a proposed programme's regulatory context and viability, particularly in the context of a prospective collaborative and/or transnational arrangement to inform a decision whether to proceed or not.

(16) Validation

The process by which it is confirmed that a programme of higher education will enable a registered learner who completes that programme to acquire and where appropriate be able to demonstrate the necessary knowledge, skill or competence to justify the award being made in respect of that programme in line with the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012.
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Section 2 - Context

Legal or Regulatory Context

Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012

(17) This policy is cognisant of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012 and its definitions and provisions around the principles underpinning the validation of programmes of education leading to awards on the Irish National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ).

Quality Assurance Guidelines

(18) This policy has been designed with regard to the European Standards and Guidelines and QQI Core Statutory Quality Assurance Guidelines, Sector Specific Independent/Private Statutory Quality Assurance Guidelines, all of which specify and guide on the need for Hibernia College to implement policy and procedure to support the design and approval of programmes.
In the Core Statutory Quality Assurance Guidelines, guidelines for programme development and approval (3.1), as well as programme monitoring and review (3.3), are clearly laid out and should be considered when developing and providing programmes of education and training regardless of the mode of delivery. The Core Statutory Quality Assurance Guidelines also include guidelines on staff recruitment (4.1) and staff development (4.3).

Validation Policies and Criteria

(19) Where a programme is being developed for submission to QQI for accreditation as a programme leading to an award on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), it is developed in line with QQI’s Policies and criteria for the validation of programmes of education and training.

Statutory Quality Assurance Guidelines for Blended Learning Programmes

(20) The Topic-Specific Quality Assurance Guidelines for Blended Learning are a supplement to the QQI Core Statutory QA Guidelines and Sector-Specific QA Guidelines. As a provider delivering blended learning programmes, Hibernia College shall ‘have regard to’ the Core QA Guidelines, the Sector-Specific guidelines and the Topic-Specific Guidelines for Blended Learning

Transnational and Collaborative Provision

(21) Where the programme being developed is intended to be delivered as a collaborative or transnational provision, the development and approval takes place in line with:

  1. QQI policies for transnational and collaborative provision in addition to the usual regulatory requirements for new programmes
  2. IHEQN Guidelines for the Approval, Monitoring and Review of Collaborative and Transnational Provision 

International Good Practice and Standards

(22) The College shall have due regard to the following policy instruments as relevant to a particular programme.

    1. The Australasian Council on Open, Distance and E-learning, referred to as ACODE, developed benchmarks in 2014 for technology enhanced learning and teaching. This policy, and associated procedures, have been designed to, at a minimum, meet these benchmarks.
    1. The European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU), a leading European institutional association in online, open and flexible higher education, has also established benchmarks for good practice. This policy, and associated procedures, has also been designed to, at a minimum, meet these benchmarks.
  1. Ministers of Education, European Higher Education Area - European Approach for Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes 2015
    1. A policy around the European accreditation approach for joint programmes, which should be applied to all those joint programmes that are subject to compulsory programme accreditation at national level
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Section 3 - Policy Statements

Part A - Principles for Design of Programmes for an Online or Blended Learning Environment

The student experience is at the heart of the design process.

(23) Online and blended modes of learning are a novel experience for most students. Students studying in these modes do not have access to the tacit, taken-for-granted supports available to those studying on campus – the familiarity bred from meeting almost daily with classmates, supported by a teacher/lecturer who is physically present for those periods. When designing for blended and online learning, Hibernia College creates alternative support systems for its students underpinned by the Community of Inquiry framework (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2001) and its focus on social, teaching and cognitive presence. [See The Pedagogical Basis of Blended Programme Design for further details].
The College communicates clearly to learners with regard to the purpose, structure and expectations associated with blended learning. This includes educating them on the role that technology plays in their learning and how that will impact their study strategies, communicating clear expectations in relation to their engagement with and participation in online learning activities and providing them with robust technical and academic support. It also seeks to design programmes that actively engage students with each other and with their learning - enabling a collaborative and participatory experience. 

Designs are research based and aligned to the Teaching Learning and Assessment Strategy for online and blended learning.

(24) Hibernia College’s Teaching, Learning and Assessment Strategy sets out the framework that underpins the choice of instructional strategies and guides pedagogical decision-making. Its goal is to ensure that our students receive an excellent, research-informed teaching and learning experience. The design and development of the online learning environment and its constituent learning activities is informed by the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Strategy as well as relevant theories and models in online learning, such as:

  1. Active learning
  2. Cognitivism
  3. Cognitive theory of multimedia learning (Mayer and Moreno, 2003) 
  4. Community of Inquiry
  5. Social Constructivism
  6. Reflective learning

Designs seek to closely integrate online and face-to-face elements.

(25) In designing blended learning programmes, care is taken to ensure tight integration between online and face-to-face components. At the curriculum planning stage, programmes are mapped out in terms of their online and face-to-face components, giving careful consideration to the affordances of each environment. Learning materials and activities in both the online learning environment and face-to-face sessions are connected and referenced in each mode of delivery. Face-to-face sessions are linked to online sessions through the design of activities that span both modes. 

Designs aim to maximise flexibility and accessibility for students.

(26) Hibernia College’s mission centres on making education accessible to learners through reducing restrictions imposed by time and location. In designing our programmes, we endeavour to use technology, where appropriate, to design learning experiences that students can engage with at a time and location that suits them. In designing content for online delivery, we are conscious of the need to adhere to the principles of universal design to ensure that content is available in a range of formats to provide choice and flexibility for all students, including those who may have specific learning difficulties. 

Part B - Principles for Developing Online Materials

(27) Subject Matter Experts and Learning Designers work together to develop online materials.

The process is collaborative.

(28) In Hibernia College, the development of materials for blended programmes is a collaborative, team-based process that values the expertise and inputs from team members across a range of college functions. The College recognises that delivery of education programmes through digital media changes the traditional relationship between teacher/lecturer and student and necessitates the development of new approaches and support structures. The planning process thus draws on and incorporates inputs from the relevant Programme Team, student support (VLE) and the Digital Learning Department (DLD), all underpinned and supported by the work of the Department of the Registrar in ensuring that the College adheres to all the relevant QA guidelines and frameworks. 

The process is highly structured.

(29) The development of materials for delivery in an online education programme is a complex and multi-faceted activity that requires input from a wide range of pedagogical, technical and content specialists. To ensure that all development is of the highest possible quality, Hibernia College has created a highly structured approach to the planning, development and review of the online materials. The process is designed to ensure the capture and sharing of all information that is critical to the development of an effective blended programme through the use of templates, standardised procedures and extensive documentation that provides guidance to all personnel involved in the programme development process. Development projects are managed in line with standard project management methodologies. 

The process is adaptive.

(30) Designing programmes for technology-mediated environments is a dynamic process that continually evolves as new technologies emerge, bringing with them new affordances for teaching and learning. The DLD ensures that staff members keep up to date with emergent technologies and new pedagogical approaches through continuous professional development, attendance and participation at conferences and other showcase events, following relevant social media feeds, and engaging in professional networks. Time is allotted at monthly departmental meetings to introduce new tools and technologies. The Head of Digital Learning reports periodically to the senior management and academic teams on new technologies that the College is considering deploying and the Learning Technologist works closely with the Programme Teams to explore how they can be used within the College.