From conventional course to block scheduling: adapting resources for successful learning

Block teaching can seem like an impossible task – all the teaching in less than half the time. But with intentional design of courses and resources, you can move from traditional to block delivery. Here, Ellen Buck shares advice based on her experience

Ellen Buck's avatar
University of Suffolk
23 May 2022
bookmark plus
  • Top of page
  • Main text
  • Additional Links
  • More on this topic
Feet climbing hands acting as steps (illustration)

You may also like

Immersification – a fresh dimension to learning design
How to measure how much ‘immersification’ is needed in online courses

Thinking about a move to block teaching? If so, you are probably wondering if you can get all the teaching done in what feels like a fraction of the time, how your students are going to retain information beyond Block 1, and whether the intensiveness of block is going to work for your part-time students or those with a disability.

The answer to all these questions is yes! But to get it right, you need to intentionally design for block scheduling and ask yourself some tough questions about what you are teaching and assessing and, most importantly, when and why?

Intentionality of design

It seems a little simplistic to begin by saying you need to intentionally design for block. It is likely that your block model has the same number of tutor-structured learning hours, the same learning outcomes, so can’t a “lift, shift and squish” approach work, shrinking 12 weeks into four or five? Yes, actually, it can! But it is likely that the load will initially feel heavy, the lack of parallel learning on simultaneously delivered modules will mean that links across theory and practice or key concepts are misaligned, and learning may feel somewhat fragmented and disjointed.

What works

Begin by storyboarding. Where do your students start, and where do you want them to end up? In visualising your programme, you can see the journey you want to take your students on, and then, through carefully considered sequencing, reposition your content to see where and how it fits together. You can also see where the same content is being revisited and ask: is this intentional and is it inclusive? Is it giving opportunities for consolidation and/or a progression of understanding? Take the analogy of packing your suitcase for a holiday. How many pairs of shorts and hats do you really need?

It is likely that this will result in a reshuffling of content, learning outcomes and assessment across modules. But if you are intentionally thinking about the links between and across your modules and programme, it will be much more explicit for your students. And they will naturally – and through clever, explicit signposting – retain their learning, revisit content and arrive at the end point you have designed for them.

Locate the learning

Once you know the structure of your content, you need to know where you are situating it. Block delivery is an excellent partner for blended learning, and helps you seamlessly provide all the content required. Blended learning isn’t just about the delivery of learning in a blend of on-campus and online classes. It is about the learning that takes place across and in between – so design for those in-between gaps. That’s where the assimilation of learning takes place.

If you have an online learning environment (OLE), it provides excellent tools for the adaptive release of content and the linking of learning spaces. For example, on-campus classroom-based synchronous activities delivered through your OLE, undertaken in groups, then pave the way for the follow-up asynchronous activities, with content released as the activities are completed, at the pace of the student, and based on the demonstrated understanding of the student. In this way, you can encourage your students to stretch their learning at times, in places and at a pace that works for them.

The blend is going to look different for each course, each year of study and each module. It is easy to get lost in the weeds of quantifying the blend, but instead make intentional decisions: what, why, where and how? Course design is iterative; you may tweak as you go as you get to know your students and solicit feedback.

Create learning hubs

It is unrealistic to expect students to be able to cumulatively develop skills, in isolation, in one module. This is where learning hubs come in. These hubs can stretch across several modules, or over the whole year – and can be used to cumulatively develop skills, be they academic or professionally based. How do you know how skills are being developed? Imagine the shuttle of a loom trundling back and forth across the basic pattern. When it encounters a new colour, or element of design, it has to pick up a different thread or stitch. This new thread is your learning outcome measuring skills development, lifted out of the hub and into the aligned module.

Place of assessment in block teaching

One of the advantages of block is that it can give your students more frequent opportunities to check in on their learning and understanding and build confidence in themselves as learners. Use frequent, small formative or low-risk assessment to manage learning and help your students develop their confidence as learners. Incorporate the tools in your OLE and get your students to help you. Quizzes can be auto-marked. Small assessments can have video feedback. Peers can assess each other and develop their critical analysis at the same time.

A move to block may feel like a challenge too far, but if it is done with intentional and compassionate pedagogy, the rewards for you and your students can be impressive. Early evaluation indicates that for our students, block and blend have the potential to deliver across critical metrics for regulatory success, including student engagement and experience, retention and achievement.

Ellen Buck is director of learning and teaching at the University of Suffolk.

If you would like advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the Campus newsletter.

For more information on this topic, see our collection What is block teaching?.


You may also like

sticky sign up

Register for free

and unlock a host of features on the THE site