2: Academic content - Fleksibel utdanning Norge

The content of the programme or course is closely linked to its purpose and target group. The learning outcome descriptors and competence aims are crucial to the choice of course content, including knowledge, skills and general competence.  

Key issues in the planning and selection of content are: What characterises this programme? Which subject areas are to be learned, which are the most important? What level should the content be at? What is the relevance of the programme to society, working life and the students themselves? What education will it be natural to take next?

In the book Eksamensrevolusjonen (2016), Arild Raaheim writes (6) about the relationship between forms of assessment and learning strategies and how this relates to the actual scope of work experienced by the students. He refers to:

(…) the necessity of determining the scope of the curriculum and required coursework on the basis of a thorough analysis of what forms the core of the individual subject. (…) The core analysis is about discussion within the subject to reach agreement on how it should be understood, and the intended outcome for students on the completion of teaching. (p. 93)

The core analysis should benefit the students and give them time for reflection and deep learning in that the tutors prioritise the importance of the various elements of the course content. Raaheim refers to the Finnish guide Give me time to think – determining student workload in higher education. (7) For primary and secondary education and training, some of these decisions have been made in the National Curriculum. However, we believe this way of thinking may be useful at all levels.

The authors of the Finnish guide suggest that the subject content can be prioritised according to three levels of necessity, called cores:

  1. Core 1, essential knowledge. Underlying principles and knowledge structures. Deep learning (mastery) of this content is necessary for further learning and study. Students must acquire this.
  2. Core 2, supplementary knowledge. Detailed information that is useful, but not strictly necessary. Students should acquire this. 
  3. Core 3, specialised knowledge. The most specific details of the subject content. May be useful for the students to know. 

The recommendation is to spend 80 per cent of teaching time on essential subject content, 15 per cent on supplementary knowledge and 5 per cent on specialised knowledge. This breakdown can help tutors reduce the amount of subject content so that students have time to immerse themselves in the essential subject knowledge. The core analysis both affects and is affected by learning outcomes, work methods and forms of assessment and the interaction between them. This will be covered in more detail in the next chapters.

It is important that the programme’s subject content is organised or structured expediently, often referred to as the learning design. Academic structure is both about the order of the different programme components and progress. How can a logical order be created and gradual, appropriate progression be facilitated in teaching? We will look at these questions in more detail in chapters 5 and 6.

Useful to consider:

  • What is it absolutely essential that students develop a deep understanding of in this programme or course, and what can be covered less thoroughly?
  • Is there an existing teaching tradition in the subject that can or should be taken into account? Is there room for rethinking?
  • What different teaching aids are already in use (including digital ones) in this or similar subjects?
  • What is the relationship between theory and practice in this subject? How should this influence teaching and work methods?
  • What prior knowledge do students need in order to study at this academic level?
  • How can students’ existing skills and experience be utilised?
  • How should students collaborate? Are discussion and dialogue an important part of the learning process?
  • Is writing an important part of the subject and the learning process?
  • Is supervision an important part of the learning processes?


  1. 6

    Raaheim, A. (2016) Eksamensrevolusjonen, Gyldendal Akademisk forlag

  2. 7

    Karjalainen, A. et al. (2008) Give me time to think – Determining student workload in higher education, 2. utg, Oulu University Press

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