Defining Programme Learning Outcomes (PLOs) and mapping progression

Overview and expectations


The York Pedagogy aims to create and maintain programmes that deliver maximum educational gain for our students. As one of the main predictors of educational engagement and significant learning gain is the degree to which students have clear objectives, the York Pedagogy requires a programme’s purpose be delineated in a limited set of 6-8 programme learning outcomes (PLOs). Students who understand the coherence of their programme, who know where they are going intellectually and why they are taking particular steps to get there, achieve more and are more satisfied.

This concise and manageable set of outcomes will enable improved shared understanding of the purpose and focus of each programme. It will allow staff to communicate clearly how each programme is designed to support the progressive achievement of its intended outcomes. This design will be encapsulated in a programme map.  Mapping the programme will be a useful exercise to define how assessment, student work and contact time with staff will be organised within and between modules to achieve development towards the PLOs.

Expectation for change

The distinctive characteristics of each programme need to be expressed in a set of 6-8 programme learning outcomes. A brief applicant-facing statement of the purpose of the programme is also required.

It is up to programme teams to determine these outcomes through discussion and consultation and to include them in the Programme Specification document.

The York Pedagogy: What and why, how and why (PDF , 1,029kb) - John Robinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning, and Students.

Submitting PLOs

Three 'windows' are available in the Spring Term for departments to gain a 'light touch' intitial endorsement of their draft PLOs from the UTC Working Group. Details will be advised by the department's contact in the central project team. This step will give increased confidence that the new PLOs will form an appropriate basis for the subsequent stages of implementing the York pedagogy, and will give UTC an overview of progress across the University. Departments may choose to submit PLOS for all of their programmes at once, or in phases (for example, to allow more time for dialogue with partner departments regarding combined degrees). 

Please use this proforma when submitting PLOs to UTC Working Group for the initial 'sense check':

PLO sense check proforma (MS Word , 19kb)



These articles address a wide range of issues in designing and mapping programmes of learning in higher education. Additional articles will be added to this list as more programmes engage with the York Pedagogy. If you would like to contribute a useful piece of research to this list, please email a pdf link and a short description to

  • The York Pedagogy: What and why, how and why (PDF , 1,029kb) - John Robinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning, and Students
    This is the article written for Forum magazine (Autumn term 2015) by John Robinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning, and Students. In the article, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor outlines the rationale and processes involved in implementing the York Pedagogy.
  • Dissertations and Capstone Projects: A Selected Bibliography (Mike Healy)
    This is a comprehensive, HEA sponsored study of the value of Final Year Project and Dissertations (FYPDs) and how they can be incorporated into undergraduate degree programmes.  This book raises key issues about the defining characteristics of higher education, how the final-year curriculum should exemplify these through the design of FYPD and illustrates innovative and creative ways of developing FYPDs through 70 case studies.
  • Pedagogy for employability:  (Higher Education Academy)
    This is a resource for teaching staff to review and develop their own understanding of employability. The material could be used to provide a springboard for development by looking at the pedagogy of employability in terms of curriculum design, delivery and assessment, with examples and case studies (particularly Section 5).


Consultations with the ProPEL Team

1. An initial meeting with your ProPEL contact is required in order to decide which undergraduate programmes will be addressed; set targets for the development of PLOs; decide on a suitable timetable for progression; and establish regular meeting schedules with the ProPEL team. It is recommended that this happens before the end of October or in early November of Autumn term 2015/16.

2. Programme leaders, in consultation with their ProPEL contact, should formulate an initial draft of PLOs to prompt discussion. 

3. The programme leader and the ProPEL contact organise a discussion session for the programme team (ie staff involved in teaching significant modules of the programme) in order to discuss the draft PLOs and work towards an agreed set of PLOs.  It is recommended that this happens before the end of Autumn term 2015, or, at the latest, in January 2016.

Workshops Available from ProPEL to Facilitate Engagement with Pedagogy

ProPEL team members will also be able to facilitate the organisation of discussion sessions for programme teams (or Faculty-based teams) on various other aspects of pedagogy implementation. These may include:

  • Engaging in the analysis of current programmes: for example, using TESTA tools such as the Programme Audit, the Student Experience Questionnaire, or the Student Focus Group questions
  • Defining our programme: exploring the purpose of programmes, identifying distinctive features, and refining/defining PLOs
  • Who is our graduate? Defining features and skills of a graduate in order to specify PLOs
  • Aiming high: writing challenging and ambitious PLOs
  • Key University themes: incorporating employability, internationalisation, globalisation, sustainability and inclusivity into programme design
  • Mapping programmes: assessing current programme stages and modules in light of proposed new learning outcomes
  • Embedding and progressing skills: incorporating skills in to PLOs and mapping them through a programme, i.e. critical awareness, research skills, collaborative learning, communication skills, and digital literacy
  • Highlighting employability: expressing PLOs in terms of employability, embedding work experience into programmes and programme mapping
  • Capstone projects: setting high standards of achievement in year three, and how to map back from these to define programme stages and progression 

Meetings and Consultations Available from QA Contacts

These may include:

  • Clarification of how the Programme and Module Catalogue project is related to the York Pedagogy
  • Support and guidance for proposing new programmes and modifying programmes while the York Pedagogy is introduced 
  • Guidance for meeting the requirements of the modular framework, including requirements for combined degrees

Defining PLOs

Defining PLOs:

These resources are designed to support programme teams in developing the limited set of programme learning outcomes required by the York Pedagogy. As more York Pedagogy programmes are approved, more examples will be added to this page. If you would like to contribute a useful exercise or piece of research to this list, please email a link and a short description to

Analysing the current situation:

 Writing Programme Learning Outcomes:

  • A suggested format for thinking about PLOs (MS Word , 17kb)
    Here is a suggested approach to thinking about PLOs in terms of defining what graduates of a programme will be able to do and how they will be able to do it. This approach then allows the construction of PLOs which focus on the graduate rather than the student. This is one approach, there may be others. It is up to the Programme Leader and Programme Team to decide how best to express their PLOs. 

Examples of PLOs:

Related Factors:

It is recognised that some expceptions may need to be made to accomodate the requirements of professional bodies. The project team will discuss this with the relevant departments. 

Mapping programmes

Tools for mapping programmes

Departments are required to map their approved 6-8 PLOs to their modules, thus creating a programme map. The Programme Informationan Proforma (see below) includes a series of prompts which lead to the creation of a programme map on page 4. These prompts should be used to structure departments' work in the pedagogy roll-out up to August 2016. The document also summarises the proformas agreed by UTC which will build up into the new programme specification. The document asks you to consider:

  • Stage-level progression
  • Programme structure
  • Mapping summative assessment
  • Mapping module contributions to the PLOs

PLOs, Programme Map & Enhancement Plan Proforma 

The Pro-Vice-Chancellor provided an example of programme mapping in his Forum article (Autumn 2015):

John Robinson's exemplar mapped programme (MS Word , 24kb)

This provides an example of a rough first draft of the map of student work for a fictitious combined degree. The degree in question is combined honours in Economics and Archaeology. 

 Tools from other institutions 

Other higher education institutions have engaged in similar processes of programme review and development. Whilst undertaking these reviews, they have developed tools to assist staff in mapping their programmes. These tools are included here as possible resources that could assist University of York staff.