Designing your course with levels in mind

If you want to design a course – anything from a short training course up to a full qualification or programme of occupational competence then make sure you use the correct wording within the course for the target level. Context is everything and this will help to make the course ‘fit for purpose’.

Don’t use the terms ‘Introductory’, ‘Intermediate’, ‘Advanced’, or similar without qualifying the level at which knowledge and understanding is to be gained. Without adding the level qualifier within the title, or clearly explained within the course description, then these subjective terms are quite unhelpful to a potential learner.

What is an Introductory course, for example? Clearly it is an introduction to a subject, but at what depth is it to be covered? A basic Level 1, with simple terminology, or a much more reflective, analytical and evaluative introduction at Level 6 for example? They can both be introductory, but the expectations of a learner will be quite different.

If a course creator doesn’t fully explain what it is that is on offer, by also including aims and objectives for a course, then this is an example of poor practice and further clarification will be needed. In addition, if the course creator isn’t also clear then what does this say about the content provided within the course?

Some very helpful guides to what are termed ‘level descriptors’ can be used to create a well-focused and fit for purpose course. A course creator can ‘frame’ the course and required content so that it is fit for purpose for a well-defined audience. Ideally learners will then much better engage with the course and hopefully wish to progress onto other courses which are well designed and more easily understood by them as to where the courses sit within an educational / learning ‘tree’.

The Institute for Apprenticeship provide a comparison between level descriptors used for qualifications and those used for occupational competence.

Level Descriptors

Level Descriptors

For a Level 2, which is that expected from craft level (or core occupational level) individuals, the descriptors are given as:

Levels descriptor – Guidance for qualifications:

Qualification knowledge descriptor:

Knowledge and understanding of the facts, procedures and ideas in the occupational field to complete well defined tasks and address straightforward problems.
Aware of a range of information that is relevant to the area of work or study Interpret relevant information and ideas.

Qualification skills descriptor:

Select and use relevant cognitive and practical skills to complete well defined, generally routine tasks and address straightforward problems.
Identify, gather and use relevant information to inform actions Identify how effective actions have been.

Levels descriptor – Occupational Competence:

Occupational competence:

Occupational competence which involves the application of knowledge,skills, procedures and ideas in a significant range of varied work activities and contexts which are generally well defined.
Some of the activities are complex or non-routine. Address straightforward problems.

Autonomy and accountability

Take responsibility for completing tasks and procedures. Exercise autonomy and judgement subject to overall direction or guidance.
May collaborate with others perhaps through a work group or team.

The above helps provide a course creator with what may also be termed the ‘correct lens’ through which they can effectively create a course to meet the desired context.

For a fuller explanation of qualification level descriptors see ‘Qualification and Component Levels Requirements and Guidance for All Awarding Organisations and All Qualifications’ (Ofqual, 2015)

For a fuller explanation of level descriptors for Higher Education courses see ‘UK Quality Code for Higher Education Part A: Setting and Maintaining Academic Standards PART A The  Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies‘ (QAA, 2014)


Chris Gray, 28th July 2018