The first stage of a CAIeRO is all about outlining a vision for the programme or module – what is it for? what do you want it to do? – and then drafting this into something concrete to work on.

Blueprint of Library For new programmes, refining the vision or idea is usually the logical place to start; defining the goals and the parameters, in discussion with colleagues on the course team, and with support from learning designers.
For existing programmes, this step may initially seem quite straightforward. A quick reference to the programme specification should tell us what we need to know. In practice though, programmes and modules get tweaked and adjusted over time, and for many programme teams it is rare to get the opportunity to spend time sharing ideas about the bigger picture of what should be taught, and how students might learn it. Stage 1 of the CAIeRO is your opportunity to revisit the aims of the programme and do a health check: asking is this still what we want to achieve? And if it is, then is this still clearly reflected in the modules that make up the programme?

As with all of the CAIeRO elements, you may spend more or less time on each task depending on the needs of your programme. That said though, it is always worth taking the time to ensure a shared vision before moving forward.

The mission statement
This first activity asks you to define, as a group and in a limited number of words, the ‘mission’ of the programme. This helps to ensure that everyone in the team is aiming for the same thing, so that we design a consistent experience for the learner. This step is particularly useful for programmes that combine modules from different areas of the discipline, and it allows those leading different modules to share their perspectives and experience. Reaching consensus can sometimes be tricky, but it does make everything that comes afterwards much easier! Once you have this, you can create statements for each of your modules, that align with and develop the mission for your programme.

The ‘look and feel’
This stage of the workshop uses Course Features cards, designed by the Open University Learning Design Initiative. You’ll be asked to narrow down the features to those which are most important to the ‘look and feel’ of your course. This may sound a little ‘woolly’, but it’s an easy umbrella term for the different elements that need to be considered (pedagogic approach, guidance and support, content, interaction and so on).
As with the mission statement, this activity helps the team to work towards a consensus on the type of learning experience you want to create. But there are also other gains to this process, that sometimes go unnoticed:

  • It provides a common language to help you and your colleagues talk about how you like to teach – particularly for those teaching strategies that are based on tacit experience. Choosing these stimulates discussion about them: what do you mean by …? how does that work? why is that the best approach? This discussion is useful for skill sharing and personal development, as well as narrowing down the most effective approaches for the context.
  • It brings the learners into the heart of the conversation, as choices need to be made about what learning approaches they might use, and what kinds of support they might need.
  • It helps to ensure that you are considering all the elements that make up a balanced course.

Constructive alignment and backwards design
stepping stone/flowThe next three sections or tasks ask you to focus in on the module level, though you will need to keep the programme-level outcomes and assessment map in the back of your mind to ensure alignment. We’ll look at the building blocks that form the basis of each module: the learning outcomes, assessment tasks and learning activities. We’ll be looking to flesh out the initial vision into a more structured pathway that is constructively aligned, asking: how do we define the learning in terms of demonstrable outcomes? how do we design assessment opportunities that allow the learner to demonstrate achievement of those outcomes? how do we create learning activities that support the learner to reach the intended outcomes and succeed in the assessment? For this we often use a ‘backwards design‘ approach, beginning with what we want the learner to know and be able to do at the end of the module, and working backwards.

First in this sequence are the outcomes (what the student should ‘come out with’, or should know or be able to do). These are arguably the most important element of a module, and not (only) because they are required for quality assurance and benchmarking! Outcomes define the parameters of what will be covered, and help the student to understand what’s expected and what will be assessed. We will check the outcomes for each module against three key criteria: language, academic level, and relation to assessment.
Assessment activities will be chosen or reviewed to ensure validity: what’s the best way for a student to demonstrate these outcomes? We’ll also consider how to prepare the students for the assessment (in terms of process as well as content), and how to incorporate peer and self-assessment.
Finally, we’ll begin to consider what kind of learning and teaching will be needed to support the students in achieving the outcomes. We’ll cover this in more depth in the next section.

A note on paperwork: Any design change to a module needs to work within the relevant quality assurance framework. If you’re working on learning outcomes or assessments, these may already be written in your module specification, and making changes to these could require a change of approval. When designing learning activities, you’ll also need to consider the allocation of teaching, learning and assessment hours that currently make up the workload for that module (200 hours for a 20 credit module). Don’t let QA requirements stop you improving things – your Learning Designer or Embedded Quality Officer can help you to understand the requirements for any suggested changes.

This is one in a series of posts about the CAIeRO process. To see the full list, go the original post: De-mystifying the CAIeRO.
Need a CAIeRO? Email the Learning Design team at