My learning design challenge: help create a world class Master of High-Performance Sport degree

by | 21 Jan, 2019 | 0 comments

During the second half of 2018, I worked closely with the team at the UTS Human Performance Research Centre to assist with strategic curriculum development for their flexible new Master of High-Performance Sport, a distinctive offering within NSW. 

The challenge

Working to support professional sports teams and elite athletes is the ultimate goal for those targeting a career in high performance sport. A multi-billion dollar industry, high performance sport provides a wide range of employment opportunities, however demands a unique set of skills for those wishing to pursue their passion in such a competitive yet rewarding environment.

UTS’s existing undergraduate degree in Sports and Exercise Science is well recognised as a leader in the field, so it was only natural for the academics at the UTS Human Performance Research Centre to build upon their international reputation, this time at a postgraduate level.

Addressing industry demands in areas such as leadership, data science, technology application, coaching science, exercise prescription and rehabilitation, the new Master of High-Performance Sport will adopt an adaptable and student-centric approach to learning, appealing to both the domestic and international market through flexible course design.

Supported by funds from the 2018 Postgraduate Strategic Funding Program, the team got to work.

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The contribution of the learning designer

As a Senior Learning Designer within the PG.f Learning Design Team, I partnered with Hugh Fullagar (Lecturer, Sports and Exercise Science) and the UTS Human Performance Research Centre to design the initial course structure and subject outlines, building the foundation for flexible online content and innovative assessment strategies during the next phases of development.

Focus groups: learning from the experts

The team shared with me their initial ideas for course structure and delivery strategy, along with data they had collected from an email survey to industry professionals and organisations.

Although this was a great start, I felt there were still some important questions that needed to be addressed from a learning design perspective. Using Postgraduate Strategic Funding Program funds from 2018, we invited a select group of industry professionals, high-performance sport graduates and academics to participate in a full day focus group.

The objectives for the sessions were to;

  1. Expand on the market research results collected;
  2. Develop the learning outcomes and structures for both the course and the subjects;
  3. Develop assessments for the subjects;
  4. Gain insight into what the experts in the field felt were the keys to their professional success.

From learning design strategy to real outcomes

By the end of the day, each of the key objectives had been successfully addressed.

One finding that strongly resonated with me was the role of communication, and the impact it has on graduate success in the workplace. But we wanted to know, for this discipline specifically, what do they mean by communication? What are the situations where the graduates would need to apply specific communication skills? What are the challenges? In other words, in this workplace, what does communication actually look like?

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The focus group explained that, depending on their area of expertise, graduates may find themselves in high pressure situations, often. They will need to make quick judgement calls and then communicate solutions effectively to their team or coach quickly under considerable pressure. The coach, usually under pressure themselves, may be shouting at them for an instant response. This finding indicates graduates need more than just good communication skills; they need to develop the analytical and problem-solving abilities required to survive in such a competitive environment.

Armed with this new understanding, we are now working with Animal Logic, UTS’s award winning educational VFX studio, to develop an immersive simulation for students of the degree. Through the simulation of high-pressure situations, students will be able to practice and develop these new skills in preparation for entering the workplace.

This is just one example of how team work, a high level of academic expertise and a strong learning design strategy each play an important role in ensuring the success of a new program.

Hugh was excited about the outcomes of the new curriculum development:

“It was critical that we develop a new program that meets the needs of the national and international market, provides employment opportunities for a vast range of professions and aligns with UTS’ teaching and learning principles to create a student and future-focused curriculum. This would have been near impossible without the expertise of our assigned leaning designer, Michelle. Her experience has been critical to learning development and outcomes and has been invaluable to the creation of this entire course.”

It’s great to get this kind of positive feedback from academics on our work. Collaborating with Hugh and the team has been such a rewarding experience, and I can’t wait to get started on the next phase of the project!

The Master of High-Performance Sport is set to launch in March 2020. If you would like to find out more about the course, contact Hugh Fullagar. If you would like to learn more about PG.f  learning design opportunities, please contact Susan Cornish.

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