Is your curriculum design limiting students’ learning potential? – Times Higher Education (THE)

Is your curriculum design limiting students’ learning potential? – Times Higher Education (THE)

Many students come into university without the necessary skills to regulate their learning as effectively as they could. But teaching students high-level self-regulatory skills supports their autonomy and success in learning and, crucially, it can reduce attainment gaps between more- and less-advantaged students.

Self-regulation is multifaceted. It encompasses the strategies learners use when they go about learning, including how they identify the demands of a task, set goals and manage their progress towards achieving such goals, evaluate and reflect on their performance. To do this well, students need to a have a good understanding of their own learning processes, know how to process information effectively and manage their emotions as part of this.

There is a lot of evidence on the factors that influence learner success. However, all too often HE curriculum design does not pass muster, because insufficient emphasis is placed on the development of those self-regulatory skill sets that students need most in order to do well. The problem is compounded by the fact that many students do not feel comfortable engaging more actively with their learning when they enter university.

Self-regulatory approaches require negotiation with students, but “student engagement as partners” initiatives are often fraught with tension given differing beliefs about what students’ role in learning should be. Students are excellent at responding to targets set by teachers; this has been their default position for much of their educational lives. Consequently, many students are wedded to a “receipt” model of education, happy to receive espoused wisdom and less used to engaging in the critical understanding and development of it.

Improving students’ self-regulatory skills requires a significant shift in students’ and academics’ thinking about learning. Students need to see themselves as genuine partners in learning and academics need to facilitate this. Currently, engaging with students as co-creators in learning often falls way short because student engagement initiatives are often extraneous to the curriculum and not a central part of it.

A standout example of this is the way feedback is interpreted. Emphasis is predominantly placed on the quality of lecturer feedback to students and students’ interpretation and use of it. While this is important, it’s just one part of the equation. Greater emphasis is needed on supporting students to better understand assessment requirements in the first place, training them in identifying and using appropriate information from a range of sources, including themselves, and giving them opportunities to apply what they have learned so they can test their understanding of it.

Mindful that students regulate in different ways, there are many things we should be doing in a coordinated, research-informed fashion to facilitate a paradigm shift in how we design curricula.

First, students need to be inducted into what the rules and requirements of a discipline are if they are to have greater ownership of the learning process (in other words, clarifying the rationale underpinning what they are being asked to do and what constitutes good work). A clear …….