Challenges in implementing “Connected Curricula”

The previous blog posting (23 September 2015) described our “connected curricula” theme, comprising three essential elements:

  • T-Profile curricula (for a digital world)
  • Employer engagement (including digital engagement)
  • Assessment for learning (discipline and employability)

We referred to this theme in two of our workshops at ALT-C 2015 entitled:

… and used the workshops to explore the challenges in implementing “connected curricula” and identifying good practices.

Overall, there seem to be five key areas of challenge:

  • Curriculum design
  • Technology
  • Employer engagement
  • Student and staff culture and skills
  • Institutional e.g. policies, strategies, processes

Curriculum design

Typical challenges include:

  • Curriculum design based around modular structures can pose barriers to connected curricula as employability-related learning outcomes typically need to be defined (and assessed) at the programme level (not the module level), Furthermore, it is not at all uncommon for programmes to have minimal “assessment for learning” approaches in place that support formative and longitudinal programme assessment approaches linked to programme learning outcomes, which embrace a more holistic view of student progression and development.
  • Students can learn employability skills from a broad range of experiences but there must be learning processes in place for them to reflect on, articulate and evidence the learning.
  • Authentic experiences can develop skills, but depend on the degree of “authenticity” and the degree to which students learn/reflect on them and articulate them.
  • Some student employability development practices focus “narrowly” on end-of-programme activities to support students in gaining a job, rather than taking a more holistic approach to developing student self-directed approaches to employability that start at the beginning of a programme and are embedded into learning and co/extra-curricular activities.


Typical challenges include:

  • The “traditional” VLE is typically structured around modular curricula which often do not simply and effectively support learner-centred approaches to formative and longitudinal assessment and feedback, where learners are regularly challenged to think about and articulate their learning experiences, achievements and progression as they unfold.
  • There is significant variation in practices and understanding of the potential of technologies to support student employability – by institutions, students and employers – particularly with e-portfolios and social media.
  • University / college systems can often lag behind industry practices.

Employer engagement

Typical challenges include:

  • Institutions find it difficult to effectively engage with employers other than large corporations, such as with SMEs, due to their large number and their inclination not to effectively resource engagement with education providers.
  • Institutions could do a lot more to unleash student creativity in using digital networks/media to engage with employers, alumni and other stakeholders.
  • Academic / real-world culture clashes continue to exist.
  • SMEs can be sensitive about competition and therefore resistant to collaborating and sharing.
  • There is wide variation in practices in how employers (large and small) are involved in defining and developing employability skills and generally involved in curriculum design, mentoring and assessment.
  • There is not much evidence of institutions evaluating the impact of employability policies/initiatives with employers despite destination surveys.
  • It is not always easy to identify “truly” authentic learning experiences with employers for ALL students, though there is much potential for student cohorts to work in partnership with employers on “real and challenging” employer/sector problems.
  • There is some good practice in engaging alumni with supporting student employability (e.g. via mentoring), though this is not widespread practice.

Student and staff culture and skills

Typical challenges include:

  • Academics do not always possess employability capabilities themselves and are therefore not always in a position to provide effective student direction and support for development of employability skills. This is less so with vocational tutors who are drawn primarily from their vocational skills and experience background. Some institutions seek to address this issue through the appointment of personal tutors (or mentors) to students who guide them throughout their programmes, though this approach is not always fully institutionally supported e.g. through staff professional development and allocation of appropriate academic work-load models.
  • Core employability skills, capabilities and attributes are typically being addressed but employers and sector groups are continually evolving their needs and requirements.
  • Digital literacies are not well articulated in relation to employability skills.
  • Employers and HE/FE generally have low aspirations in relation to “digital entrepreneurialism”.
  • There is not much evidence of use of data collection/analytics to support student employability development and curriculum delivery.

Institutional e.g. policies, strategies, processes

Typical challenges include:

  • A complex landscape exists of how student employability is developed across the HE, FE and skills sectors with variation in approaches by institutions and with different views on what “maturity” could look like from the perspectives of the student “employability journey” (i.e. employability as a continuous and lifelong journey), what an “employable” student would look like and how a “mature” institution embeds development of student employability in an orchestrated and holistic approach.
  • There are many creative uses of technology, but “embedding” remains elusive to many institutions (including at local levels e.g. faculty, school, department).
  • In many institutions, there appears to be a lack of joined-up approaches in respect of student employability between academic departments and corporate careers/employability services.
  • There is not much evidence of use of data collection/analytics to support programme enhancement, QA and QE.

The above highlight some of the key challenges that institutions are faced with in implementing “connected curricula” – our next blog posting will focus on solutions to these challenges and good practices drawn from our many case studies undertaken as part of the technology for employability study.

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