Developing the Student Learning Experience model


In June 2021, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) published its final report of its Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability. One of the recommendations in the report was to develop a single tertiary approach to quality for colleges and universities.

This new approach seeks to put the experiences of students at the centre of the sector’s approach to quality. To facilitate this, SFC has commissioned sparqs to develop a shared sector reference point - the Student Learning Experience model. This model will be developed by students in partnership with staff across the sector, in order to be focused on what matters most to our students.

sparqs’ work to date

In developing this model, we will build on our existing Student Learning Experience (SLE) tool. The existing tool is used widely across the sector and is the foundation of the training that sparqs delivers to course representatives. The tool breaks the SLE into several building blocks and then facilitates dialogues with a series a prompt questions, which help students explore their experiences within each building block.

The current SLE tool [shown right] will be familiar to many across the sector. Further information on the SLE can be found in our Resource Library.

Each building block within the tool has a set of accompanying questions that support students to think about the quality of their learning.

The aim of the current project will be to review the above building blocks and their accompanying questions to create a shared reference point, which is focused on the views and needs of students studying in Scotland and shaped by a range of research and discussion between students and staff.

To develop the tool, sparqs has already undertaken a piece of desk research, exploring a range of existing sector reference points and research that explore the SLE and set out principles for the types of activity that contribute to excellence in the student experience. Reference points we have used include the UK Quality Code; Our Best Future (Education Scotland); a range of student surveys, including the National Student Survey (NSS), Student Satisfaction and Engagement Survey (SSES), and Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES); professional standards for teaching staff in both universities and colleges and some international reference points. We intend to continue adding to this scanning work and would be happy to receive suggestions of other publications that would be useful in this process. This desk research has suggested 12 potential areas which could form the ‘building blocks’ of the new SLE.

Over the summer, sparqs piloted a workshop, prior to rolling it out across the autumn/winter term of the 2022-23 academic year. We have delivered an adapted version of this workshop to colleagues at our May joint meeting of our advisory groups and networks (JAG, NEON and SESN); student officers and students’ association staff at our That’s Quality! residential; and to student rep trainers at our Associate Trainer residential. These pilot workshops served a dual purpose – to begin the data gathering exercise to shape the new SLE model, and to gather initial feedback from experienced staff and students on the workshop itself and how we can most effectively deliver it across Scotland over the next few months.

Phase 1 – September 2022 to January 2023

In line with the SFC’s intention to ensure this work is fully centred on the views of students, the SFC has asked sparqs to undertake a major piece of work with students studying across the tertiary sector, to explore the key principles and approaches that constitute an excellent Student Learning Experience.

In phase 1 of this project (from September to January), sparqs worked with students to identify the principles of the Student Learning Experience that matter most to them. This took the form of a series of workshops with student reps and diverse student groups across Scotland. These workshops were designed to capture the views of students on what makes a good student learning experience.

We arranged sessions with students’ associations and institutions to run workshops with their students. These workshops were facilitated by sparqs’ Development Consultants, with some workshops delivered online and some in-person, depending on the format which worked best for the institution. 21 workshops took place across Scotland’s colleges and universities during Phase 1 of the project, in addition to the 3 pilot workshops delivered during summer 2022.

In phase 1 sparqs engaged with 301 students from Scotland’s colleges and universities. We ran institution-specific workshops with the following institutions: Dumfries & Galloway College, Forth Valley College, UHI Inverness, North East Scotland College, New College Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire College, West College Scotland, West Lothian College, Abertay University, University of Dundee, University of Glasgow, Heriot-Watt University, Queen Margaret University, University of St Andrews, University of Strathclyde and the University of Stirling.

In this workshop series, we wanted to ensure that we were hearing from a diverse range of students from different demographics and levels of study, to ensure that the model works for all students however and wherever they learn. We therefore ran some workshops for specific groups of the student body, including international students; widening access students; and LGBT+ students. We also ran workshops with students studying at several levels of study and types of course, including modern and graduate apprentices, undergraduates across all year groups, postgraduate taught students, senior phase school pupils studying at college, and students studying on supported education programmes.

We would like to thank all the students who took the time to participate in these workshops and share their thoughts, your contributions are hugely valuable and will play a key role in setting the agenda for conversations about the student learning experience in Scotland for many years to come. Our thanks also go to the students’ associations and institutions who volunteered to host a workshop and supported their successful running.

Phase 2 - January to May 2023

In Phase 2 of the project, sparqs has begun by undertaking an initial thematic analysis of the principles data gathered in Phase 1. From this analysis, sparqs has identified an initial longlist of draft principles under each of the building blocks. These principles, and the wider phrasing and structure of the building blocks themselves, will be consulted upon and workshopped with students and staff across the sector at several national committees and events - we want to ensure that there is consensus at a sector-level on the model, so that, whilst it is centred on what students have said, it is owned by everyone. Sector committees and events we will attend include:

  • CDN Quality Development Network
  • College Vice Principals' Network
  • National Education Officers’ Network (NEON)
  • Scottish Higher Education Enhancement Committee (SHEEC)
  • Student Engagement Staff Network (SESN)
  • The Quality Forum (TQF)

Alongside this sector consultation activity, sparqs will establish a student and staff consultative group. This group will comprise volunteers from our existing networks (our Joint Advisory Group (JAG), NEON and SESN) as well as individuals with sector expertise on topics we need the model to support, such as EDI, digital learning and sustainability in the curriculum. This group will develop sections of the model in more detail, including considering key aspects of the model, such as how it should address the diversity of the student body, how we can ensure the model can be used for all modes of study, e.g. FE, HE, Apprentices and PGT, etc.

Once we have agreed as a wider group on the suggested new building blocks for the SLE, and their accompanying principles, sparqs will propose a Student Learning Experience model to be incorporated into the common approach to quality, to be shared with the Scottish Funding Council in its final draft form in early May 2023.

After May, we will develop accompanying practices which will sit under the agreed upon building blocks and their principles.

How can I get involved? 

For further information, or to share your thoughts on the development of the Model,  please contact Megan Brown, Development Consultant –

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