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Principles of Programme Design  

This page should be read in conjunction with: 

  • Our glossary, which provides an explanation of many of the key terms below. 

The information on this page is for staff in TEIs who are planning: 

  • to introduce one of the Common Awards programmes that has not previously been offered in their institution, or 
  • a significant re-design of a programme that their institution already offers. 

The relevant approval processes are set out in our Curriculum Development page.

Factors you should take into account when designing a programme include: 

  • Coherence and breadth 
  • Connecting modules 
  • Progression 
  • Teaching adjacent levels 
  • Equality, diversity, and inclusion 
  • Durham’s research-led approach 

TEIs should also take into account our policies on assessment and learning hours. 

Coherence and breadth 

The Common Awards programmes are designed to provide students with a coherent course of study. They are all oriented towards ministry and mission. They all involve the formation of students in practices of theological reflection that integrate disciplines with each other and with practice and experience. 

When planning to implement one of these programmes, you should choose which of the portfolio of Common Awards modules to offer to students in your TEI. Your selection will need to follow the broad rules set out in our programme specifications. You should decide which modules will be compulsory and which will be optional. 

As you do this, you should think about the coherence and breadth of the programme. Will students gain a balanced and broad foundation in the study of theology, ministry and mission? Will they be enabled to find connections between the different parts of their curriculum, and find the modules they take mutually illuminating? Will they be enabled to make connections between the various different subdisciplines involved? 

Connecting Modules 

One option available to you as you try to make the student experience more coherent is to link two or more modules together, in such a way that they will be experienced by students (and staff) as a continuous journey. 

Each of these linked modules will still need to follow our assessment and learning hours policies, and students will still get a separate module mark for each one. You can nevertheless design them so that there is a clear flow from one to another. 

If you do this, you will need to think clearly about whether you want to make it necessary for students to take all the modules that you have linked in this way. You can do this either by making them all compulsory for students in the relevant cohort, or by making assigning the earlier modules as formal pre-requisites for the later modules. You will need to think about whether you will allow students to cover one or more of the modules by Accreditation of Prior Learning, but join in with the rest. 

Above all, you will need to make sure that the arrangements are clear to students, and in particular that they know which assessments contribute to which module, and that they ultimately receive separate marks for each module. 

You will also need to give careful consideration to excluded module combinations. See our Templates and Forms page for information on pre-requisite, co-requisite and excluded module combinations.  


The Common Awards programmes are designed with progression in mind. The programme learning outcomes at each level relate closely to those at other levels. This ensures that, broadly speaking, students will study within the same general areas at each level, but will be expected to explore those areas at each subsequent level in greater depth, with more attention to detail, more independence, and more critical insight. Our programme specifications and our module outlines are designed to enable this experience of progression. 

When planning to implement one of these programmes, you should think about how your programme design will implement and reinforce this sense of progression, especially for those programmes that stretch over more than one level. 

For a Diploma or a BA, for instance, will your programme design allow students to feel that they are laying foundations at Level 4 and then building on those foundations at higher levels? 

Will they be able to recognise that they are not simply moving from topic to topic, but deepening and extending the skills and the forms of insight involved in their studies? How will you help them, at the transition between levels, to recognise the change in what is expected of them? 

Will your programme design allow students to grow in independence as they move up the levels, and will they have an opportunity at the higher levels to pursue their own particular areas interest? 

Teaching Adjacent Levels 

One particular question comes up quite frequently in relation to progression, when TEIs are designing programmes: Can students studying at different levels be taught together? 

Our answer is: Yes, in some circumstances. 

It is important not to confuse a module with a classroom. Students taking a module engage in a whole set of inter-related activities – assignments, independent study, informal discussion, attending classes, responding to feedback. Any time spent in a physical or virtual classroom is only one of those forms of activity. 

Just as students on two or more different modules might read several of the same books, so students on two or more different modules can participate in the same class, if that class is an appropriate element of the learning needed for their respective modules. 

Cohorts of students studying on different modules, including modules at different levels, can therefore be taught in the same class, provided that the TEI is confident about the following points: 

  • Whatever is shared between cohorts must work well for each cohort: it must be accessible, and it must enable students to explore the material covered at an appropriate depth;
  • Students on different cohorts must be left in no doubt as to the different learning outcomes they are pursuing, and the different assessment they will take to demonstrate that learning; and
  • There must be significant elements of their learning on the module that are not shared, because they prepare students directly for their different assessments. We do not specify a certain percentage that needs to be distinct. This is a qualitative academic judgment.

As a thought experiment, imagine that a formal complaint is filed by a student who received a disappointing mark on a module taught in this way, which affected her whole award classification. A TEI would need to be in a position to make a convincing case to an independent academic observer that the teaching the student had received had been appropriate preparation for her assessment. That’s the relevant standard here: would these arrangements stand up to scrutiny in the face of independent academic common sense? 

TEIs may teach two very similar modules at adjacent levels without consulting the University, providing they are following these guidelines. You should, however, include a brief rationale for your approach in your Module Overview Table [T4]. You should very briefly explain how you expect to satisfy the criteria listed in the bullet points above. You can put these sentences in the description of one module, and cross-refer to them from the descriptions of the other relevant modules. The rationale might be the same for all the instances in your TEI of such combined teaching, but you should provide a separate justification for any instance that will work significantly differently. 

If you wish to do more than teach two very similar modules at adjacent levels – teaching non-adjacent levels, for instance – you should contact the Common Awards team to discuss its feasibility. 

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion 

To study theology, ministry and mission is, in principle, to join a very diverse conversation. It is a conversation that stretches over centuries, that stretches around the world and across cultures, and that in every context includes people with very different identities, very different locations, and very different perspectives. 

Questions of equality, diversity, and inclusion should therefore be central in the process of programme design within Common Awards. 

Most fundamentally, you should ask how well your programmes will induct students into this lively and diverse conversation. How well will it introduce students to the diversity of the voices involved, and to their interactions? 

You should also look ask how welcoming your programme will be to a diverse range of students. 

These questions will affect the subject matter on which you choose to focus, the questions you ask, the pedagogical methods you pursue, the learning resources you provide, the books and articles you suggest, the forms of assessment you use, and the ways in which you mark and provide feedback. 

You will find some resources to help you think about these questions on our Diversity and Inclusion pages, and especially on our pages about decolonising the curriculum and on generating bibliographies. 

The Relationship between Research and Teaching 

As you design your programmes, you should remember that we expect a close relationship between teaching and research on Common Awards programmes. Teaching should be research-led, research-oriented, research-based, and research-informed. 

Research-led teaching is teaching energised by the research activity of staff. In a Common Awards context, this includes many forms of academic or scholarly research, but also the reflective explorations of practitioners in ministry and mission. 

Research-oriented teaching is teaching that draws students into research activity. In a Common Awards context, this includes practices of theological reflection, which are introduced early in our programmes and then deepened as students’ progress. 

Research-based teaching is teaching in which teachers and students learn together. 

Research-informed teaching is teaching shaped by good pedagogical research. In a Common Awards context, this includes the research that we foster in our symposia, seedcorn grants, and conferences. 

See our page on research-led teaching for more information.