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Skills learning trajectories: design choices & users’ experiences

Monday, 14 March 2022

In order to keep up with the rapidly changing society and labour market, students acquire a broad set of skills. Preferably they are also able to monitor their own development. How can university programmes make sure that students develop cognitive, interpersonal and metacognitive skills? As a possible answer to this question, several bachelor programmes at Wageningen University have implemented learning trajectories for (academic) skills (writing, presenting, and collaboration). Researcher Claire Goriot investigated the intentions of these programmes, the choices that were made in designing the trajectories, and the users’ experiences with the trajectories. The study was completed in December 2021.

Reasons for and design of the learning trajectories

A learning trajectory is a coherent and meaningful whole of teaching and learning, that is implemented in different courses throughout the curriculum. These courses are aligned and build upon each other, which enables students to acquire pre-determined learning goals. Seven BSc programmes participated in this study. Goriot: ‘Common reasons to introduce learning trajectories were to improve students’ skills, or to create awareness among students (and staff) about the importance of skills development and ensure curriculum alignment.’ All 7 programmes focused on writing skills, mostly (n=6) in addition to presentation and collaboration skills. All programmes (at least partly) integrated skills education into content courses, sometimes alongside a separate module or separate assignments for skills. Two programmes assessed skills development in a portfolio that students handed in at the end of their studies. Other programmes integrated the final skills assessment in the bachelor thesis.

Users’ experiences with the learning trajectories

Skills coordinators (that keep track of and guarantee the learning trajectory), educational directors, and teaching staff were largely positive about the learning trajectories. ‘They acknowledged the importance of skills development, were more aware of skills education in the programme and acknowledged the importance of aligning courses’, says Goriot. Staff also had the impression that the trajectory benefitted students’ skills development. Nevertheless, they mention that alignment of skills education in different courses can be a challenge.

The users mentioned several factors that benefited the learning trajectory: ‘The most important one was that a skills coordinator (i.e., someone that makes sure the learning trajectory is carried out, and courses and assessments are aligned to each other and the learning goals) is essential for the continuity of the trajectory. Students taught skills development is important for their future career, and they valued the integration of skills education in content courses (and therefore the connection of the two domains).’

Conclusions and recommendations

This study shows that there are different ways to design skills learning trajectories, but that successful integration a trajectory requires a coordinator. Furthermore, it is recommended to carefully formulate the intention of the trajectory, as different intentions may lead to different design choices. Programmes that aim at improving students’ skills and/or awareness of the importance of skills development, may make use of separate modules/moments in courses, solely devoted to skills. They also should make sure to visualise the skills trajectory and its accompanying learning goals, and have students reflect on and prove their goal development in, for example, a portfolio. Programmes that aim at improving curriculum alignment or that have a more pragmatic reason for implementing learning trajectories may fully integrate skills education and assessment into content courses. The consequence is however that students may not be (completely) aware of the skills learning trajectory and its learning goals.

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