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Queen Mary Academy

Programme level design

A ‘programme of study’ is a module or set of modules which after successful completion lead to a student progressing to receive a credit-bearing award. (e.g. a B. Eng, MBA, and CILT are all programmes of study)

Programme specifications

A key document in programme design is the programme specification.  A Programme Specification is “a concise description of the intended learning outcomes from a specific higher education programme, and the means by which these outcomes are achieved and demonstrated”​ (QAA, 2000)​.

Programme specifications:

  • Make intended learning outcomes (ILOs) explicit in terms of knowledge, skills, understanding
  • Help students understand teaching and learning methods that enable the ILOs to be achieved
  • Help students understand assessment methods
  • Identify relationship of programme & its study elements to qualifications framework and any relevant professional qualification/career path
  • Also useful for lecturers and teaching teams for reviewing modules and programmes

Programme specifications should be aligned to reference points and benchmarks to demonstrate their relevance to academic, professional and employer communities.  These might include: 

  • QMUL Strategy 2030 
  • School or Faculty Learning & Teaching Strategy
  • QMUL Graduate Attributes Framework
  • QAA Subject Benchmark Statement
  • Current academic research
  • Requirements of Professional and Statutory Bodies

Programme coherence: 'more than the sum of its parts'  

Programme design should consider how the individual modules of a programme come together into something more than the sum of its parts - programme learning outcomes should be more than a simple aggregate of module learning outcomes.  Programme aims and learning outcomes should be pitched at the level of an average student upon completion of the course so representing the culmination of achievement on the programme.  Programme coherence and integration is particularly important for courses where there are a wide range of optional modules for students to choose from - how will students be supported to choose these options and to make sense of their programme as a whole?

When designing the programme structure you might consider (adapted from Moon, 2002):

Scope of the programme

  • Is there space for more complex learning?
  • Depth​ - at what level can each element of the programme be studied?
  • Overcrowding​ - are you trying to fit too much in?
  • Is there space for development of graduate attributes and wider employability skills?

Sequencing​: how will material or modules be sequenced on the programme?

  • Simple to complex learning 
  • Prerequisite learning (bits grasped before others) 
  • Chronological learning (historical/developmental)
  • Spiral curriculum (topics/themes revisited in greater complexity througout the programme)
  • Student-led 

Continuity​: where will there be elements of continuity or threads running continuously throughout a programme?  Will this be in either: 

  • Skills
  • Content

Integration​: how will the separate elements of the programme be integrated?

  • Larger integrative assessments
  • Portfolios 
  • Projects 
  • Student reflection / discussion of module choices

Programme level assessment

One key area where better programme integration can be achieved is through programme level assessment where assessments are moved outside of individual modules and assess muliple modules at once.  Students are required to integrate their knowledge and skills from these separate modules and bring them together for the assessment.  Assessment burden for both students and staff can also be reduced.  For more details see our dedicated page on programme level assessment.

Dowload the programme curriculum re/design guidance prepared by Learning Development here:

Programme design LD [PDF 308KB]


References and further resources

Moon, J, ‘The sum of the parts: some considerations on working at programme level’, Programme and Module Handbook (2002)

More information on Programme development is available on QMUL’s Academic Registry and Council Secretariat website - 

QMUL programme specifications: 

Advance HE guide: 'Writing Programme Specifications' 

QAA, UK Quality Code for Higher Education