UVAC 2010

Liz Warr and I hosted a workshop session on frameworks, wrapper modules and inquiry based learning design at UVAC 2010. The workshop was informed by work undertaken in the last 12-18 months at Harper Adams through the REEDNet project and formally the Aspire CETL.

I think it was fair to say that the most interest in the session was on wrappers and re-scalable modules. To read more about the wrapper idea you can click here or go straight to the paper.

Thanks to those who joined us today, it has certainly helped us move on our thinking and to consolidate some thoughts. Here is the session presentation for reference:

Conceptualising wrappers

One of the curriculum tools under early usage at the moment is a wrapper module. Now in operation these modules enable higher level learning to wrap around work-based training. Through extensions of various sorts the core learning can be escalated and deepened. The following diagram tries to conceptualise  this for a forthcoming publication (click to view) :

Wrapping training for relevant HE

One way in which REEDNet has succeeded at enhancing work-focussed learning has been through the development and use of wrapper modules. The wrapper module essentially grows the learning from competency and skills focused training.

Whilst it is not new to embed competence based training to HE qualifications, it is perhaps a little more novel to build around competence based training to form an HE award.

Now tried and tested REEDNet is offering an invitation to providers of competence and skills focused training to co-develop relevant HE provision. Download the invitation here.

Validated: Professional Studies Framework featuring an online cohort of individuals

Last week Harper Adams University College validated ‘The Professional Studies Framework’. The framework will facilitate the negotiation of employer sponsored cohorts of work based learners from levels 4-7 and enable individual’s to study online towards an MSc in Professional Studies.

The framework

Harper Adams is currently engaged with employers through the REEDNet project. The decision to develop a credit framework was made to support developments in employer responsive provision. The framework seeks to offer awards in the range of a Foundation Certificate through to MSc in Professional Studies. The achievement of awards within this range would be formed through different module combinations. This is made possible by broadly designed award outcomes that emphasize learning processes and learning levels, rather than subject content or specific contexts. The framework seeks to offer awards which meet the needs of employers and which support learners to develop and demonstrate knowledge and understanding, skills and also other attributes which are beneficial to an individual’s employing organisation and to the individual’s personal and professional development.  

The framework has been designed for cohorts who either:

  • Already have credit from different sources and who wish to bring that credit together, along with some new Harper Adams credit, to form a named Harper Adams award.
  • Seek an award through unique combinations of modules. 
  • Have existing training already occurring in-house which may be recognised through flexible modules from The framework’s own suite of modules.

 How does it work?

The framework is underpinned by four key mechanisms:

1. Modules (reusable curriculum).

A number of modules have been formed which can be contextualised in a range of workplace settings. Modules can be seen as wrappers or shells. Titles include Analysing the work setting, Leadership and organisational improvement, Advancing professional skills, Learning through work, Action research and professional development. The modules can be used and adapted to fit with the needs of different employers. 

Wrapper modules accredit existing training whilst extending the learning from that training through a range of processes that include systematic reflection, connecting the development of competencies in practice to bodies of literature and to analysing the impact of knew knowledge.  A number of wrapper modules were successfully validated in March 2010 at Harper Adams. 

Shell modules are modules that require application in a specific context; they may be contextualised by either individual learners or by employer cohorts so as to address particularly relevant themes. Typically, although not exclusively, shell modules are inquiry-based. 

2. Parameters

A number of parameters have been set for the operation of the framework. All credit must be work related and the volume of credit brought from other sources must comply with existing regulations.

3. Processes 

The framework is underpinned by a number of processes to provide scrutiny of new modules combinations and devise definitive documentation. Harper Adams (specifically through Aspire and REEDNet) has an established employer engagement validation committee that meets almost monthly. The experience of this group, coupled with the regularity of meetings makes it well placed to provide scrutiny (e.g. ensuring modules are combined appropriately). 

The framework is also underpinned by the processes of working with employers; REEDNet has a team comprising of developers, business development managers and academics who together with departmental staff can act as translators – turning the framework in to a tangible employer engagement arrangement, with all that entails.

4. Conventions (naming awards). 

The framework contains mechanisms to add award suffixes so as to enable context and/or content reflective of the modules undertaken to achieve the award.  

The framework offers the opportunity for truly responsive provision, whether this through bespoke combinations, or through the application of shell or wrapper modules. Undoubtedly the success for the framework will depend upon the skill of the team who need operationalise it. 

The cohort of individuals  

 The Framework is firmly aimed at facilitating employer engagement for groups of learners. However there are learners located in rural sector organisations, which do not engage with higher education directly, for a whole host of reasons (size being a significant reason).  To open up work-based learning to such individuals, an individual route through the framework at level 7 was simultaneously validated.    

For individual entrants the modules will be presented as a set sequence and credit size to enable efficiency and intra-group support to be offered. This is not the negotiation of individual routes through The Framework but rather is a cohort of individuals from differing professional backgrounds learning through a common curriculum, and benefiting from the cross-fertilization of learning from their respective inquiries.  

msc diagram
Modules serving the cohort of individuals 

The MSc will be rolled out over a staged period of development. The resourcing for the creation of the online modules and the subsequent facilitation has been compiled with a capacity building goal; that is to draw in a range of staff to encourage engagement with online learning. 

The individual route through the framework is intended to feedback into the framework infrastructure since the creation of online resources, spaces and the expansion of learning about providing online support will enhance the support available for employer engagement.    

The dual validation


Validation is seen as the first step to bring a truly flexible but robust award system to reality.   

Thank you to all external colleagues for providing support to this project at its various stages of development.   


Accrediting work-based learning: Exclusion?

When we discuss work-based learning we often talk about how we are widening participation; making HE more inclusive and accessible. Recently a few employer engagement arrangements that I have been involved in have brought to mind the way in which accreditation of training can divide a work-force in to the post- and pre- accreditation groups. When training is accredited what can do we do about the people who have completed the training and learning and in some cases the assessment but have not acquired credits? Accreditation of Prior Learning may provide an answer however this is sometimes easier said than done within the bounds of regulations. I am fast coming to the conclusion that it is critical at the point of design for developers to consider the pre-accredited learners and how they may have the opportunity to be included without disproportionate procedures coming into practice. As well as APL, APCL and APEL we might consider advanced standing and also the use of wrapper modules* to recognize and extend learning. Adding a notional APL access line to module specs and course development paperwork simply stores up problems for the point when access is required.

Presently I am involved in designing an employer engagement wherein a sizable number of learners will have undertaken the training but not the assessment (or any additional elements resulting from the accreditation). At this design stage we have a blank canvas on how to include the wider group in to the accredited provision: It maybe through a supported APL style process or through a wrapper module which recognises learning undertaken and extends this through reflection and inquiry, whatever the means it does not seem reasonable or ethical to knowingly exclude through inaction.

*Wrappers would be particularly appropriate for courses that have evolved through accreditation.

Competence Wrappers : A creative curriculum solution for work based learning

The competence wrapper module may be seen as a vehicle to collate and enhance workplace learning that focus on the development of specific and technical skills and related areas of knowledge (or learning achieved through a range of training initiatives or non credit baring courses). The competence wrapper is a way of adding value to practice based learning through the addition of systemic reflection, the linking of the learning to an organisational context and sector issues and through the development of meta-learning (including learning awareness, decision making and learning habits).

Work-based learning is currently being achieved in a variety of ways; to achieve and justify academic credit for this learning it needs to be brought together, interconnected and deepened. The wrapper module seeks to enable this to occur. A wrapper module can be seen to draw together learning from potentially a wide range of sources including existing NVQ training and in-house company training, short courses, work-place experience and conference events.

Wrapper modules

  • are a versatile way of adding value to existing learning and thereafter accrediting that learning.
  • give credit for the development of professional skills and knowledge, and for the development of associated knowledge, personal development planning and reflective skills.
  • recognise that there is a great deal of valuable learning already being undertaken in and through the workplace.
  • devolve the development of work-place skills, competence and knowledge to external experts, to real world practitioners and industry experts.
  • may vary in credit value according to the volume of learning being wrapped and the breadth and depth of the wrapping added.
  • seek to add additional layers of learning on to existing provision.

Layers of knowledge and skills sit within the wrapper module (click to view):