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Case study 08: Learning Methodologies


This case is about bridging with study skills, via a non-credit bearing module called  Learning Methodologies, for predominantly international Master’s students.


Diagnostic assessment; study skills support; partnership working; expectations of UK HE

Describe, briefly, the activity/initiative/practice

Learning Methodologies is a compulsory but non-credit bearing three week module at the start of several Master’s programmes in the School of Health Sciences.  It does not contribute to the final MSc but aims to enable the development of awareness and capabilities regarding Master’s level learning strategies and tools in order to support all modules.  The programmes have a strong emphasis on student directed learning and practice-based learning, and incoming students often had problems understanding these differerent educational philosophies and expectations.

The students’ prior learning experience is evaluated prior to the commencement of the study unit in order that the hours of study required by individual students can be ascertained.  Thus, students with a higher level of prior learning experience are not required to undertake the entire study unit.  However, all students will be required to undertake a diagnostic formative assessment that requires the different academic skills necessary for Master’s level study; students who are at an appropriate level will be permitted to undertake these elements within a shorter time period.

The diagnostic formative assignment is used to identify gaps in students’ academic skills. Gaps are discussed in individual Personal Academic Tutorials, and discussions facilitate the development of a personal learning contract. Learning contracts are reviewed and progressed in academic tutorials following the first summative feedback, early in semester 2. Further classes are held to build on skills over the following two semesters, to advance critical analysis and synthesis, and practise this in journal clubs, as well as providing strategic support, e.g. relating to statistical analysis and use of SPSS.  The most recent additions are sessions on continuing professional development and reflection.

What is the background/context to the activity/initiative/practice?

Focus groups were conducted with past students prior to the last revalidation, which not only led to the development of this module but informed the content as well. The result was this initiative, largely to support international students who found it difficult to adjust to UK expectations of Master’s level study

What made/makes it “Master’s” level?

The unit is only offered to Master’s students, to help them make the transition to Master’s level study

It is a transition tool with elements of Master’s level study contained within. BY the end of the module, participants should know what is expected at Master’s level.

What challenges were encountered/overcome - in terms of mastersness - and what lessons were learned that would be helpful to others?

The unit aimed partly to give a supportive start to students at risk of failing in their studies, for lack of knowledge of what was expected, and how they should work at M level. There is evidence that the unit has been effective in this.

In its first iteration, in 2010/11, the study unit was initially delivered to 26 MSc Physiotherapy (post-registration – full time) students, as a collaboration between Physiotherapy staff, Centre for Academic Practice staff, including the Effective Learning Service, and Learning Resource Centre staff. Feedback from students has been highly positive and supportive of the unit.

Of 26 students (22 international, 3 EU), the initial fail rate for the Learning Methodologies was 38%; this reduced to 15% at the end of semester 1; fail rates for modules assessed at the end of semester 2 varied from 4-23%. However, only one student had 60 credits of fails at the end of Semester 2, and there were no incidents of plagiarism identified. These are improvements on past years, and are hoped to influence future recruitment and retention. The study unit is now also delivered to other international Master’s students in the School of Health Sciences.

Where to next - in terms of mastersness – if anywhere?

There is interest in supporting all international students in the School with Learning Methodologies, although this has resource implications. There is also interest in supporting distance learning students using material from this module. This is in its early stages, but some of the sessions have been recorded using Echo 360.


Queen Margaret University, MSc Physiotherapy (Post-Registration) (Full-Time)


Dr Cathy Bulley and Dr Kavi Jagadamma, School of Health Sciences, Queen Margaret University.