In higher education, a sequence of programme components and subject matter presented in a certain order ensures that students acquire predefined competences by the time they graduate. This requires that the different building blocks of the curricula fit together and complement one another. In order to ensure a smooth, gradual acquisition of competences, we can introduce learning trajectories.
A learning trajectory can be defined as 'a well-reasoned set of intermediate goals and contents leading towards a final goal'. This can be a set of simultaneous and/or consecutive programme elements through which students acquire knowledge and skills in a certain domain. The term 'domain' is used in a broad sense here: it can refer to very discipline-specific content, but also to subject matter that transcends disciplines.
Cross-disciplinary or generic learning trajectories are aimed at the acquisition of generic skills and related knowledge and insights. These generic learning trajectories are meant to bridge certain gaps in the programme. They often tie in with strategic policy themes such as the education-research nexus, diversity, sustainability and entrepreneurship.
Learning trajectories can be either horizontal or vertical. Vertical learning trajectories ensure consistent competence acquisition throughout a standard study programme. Horizontal learning trajectories reflect the structure of one academic year of a standard study programme.
By clustering learning content into different learning trajectories, we can create an intermediate level in the curriculum, thereby reducing complexity and increasing transparency.
Some practical applications demonstrating the usefulness of learning trajectories:
Adequate communication with lecturers and students about the learning trajectories increases their insight into the structure of the programme. New lecturers, for example, can clearly situate their programme components in the wider context of the curriculum thanks to a system of learning trajectories. Students get a better overview of the way different programme components are interconnected, which can help them put together their study programmes.
A visual representation of learning trajectories can ensure a transparent flow of information to various external stakeholders, such as prospective students and professionals. On info days, or in information brochures, for instance, learning trajectories could be used to give a clear overview of the structure of a study programme.
A system of learning trajectories offers the possibility to make well-considered decisions with regard to the sequence in which programme components are taught – not only when it comes to the sequence of components within one learning trajectory, but also for the interconnection of programme components across learning trajectories. For example, a Microeconomics programme component ('Economics' learning trajectory) may require prior knowledge not only of economics, but also of mathematics ('Quantitative Methods' learning trajectory).
Learning trajectories can also stimulate interdisciplinary cooperation, both within and across learning trajectories. For the acquisition of design skills, for instance, it could be decided to bring together human, technological and economic sciences in a single learning trajectory.
Curriculum changes and reforms
Learning trajectories could also help facilitate the process of curriculum changes and reforms. The relative weightings of the various learning trajectories could serve as a basis for such reforms, starting from individual programme components – in an initial phase, at least.
Learning trajectory consultation
Learning trajectories can form the basis for learning trajectory consultation, with lecturers discussing not only how content can be interconnected, but also how study materials can be attuned to teaching and assessment methods.
Rearrange learning content within the learning trajectory
If exceptional circumstances (e.g. lecturer falls ill, coronavirus pandemic, etc.) prevent certain subject matter from being taught, it could be possible to rearrange the learning content within the learning trajectory temporarily.
Teaching tip 92 • June 2020