Elite Sport Performance

Lecturer: Dr Áine MacNamara (aine.macnamara@dcu.ie)
Discipline: School of Health & Human Performance
Subjects: Elite Sport Performance
Level: Postgraduate
Class Size: 15
Mode of Delivery: Online, part-time



The Professional Doctorate in Elite Performance (Sport) is aimed at the next generation of practice leaders in sport and attracts students from diverse disciplines (e.g., coaching, sport science, leadership, management, athletic therapy, physiotherapy, teaching).  

The Professional Doctorate in Elite Performance programme is a four year, part-time 240 credit programme, comprising of a 60-credit taught element and a 180-credit research thesis. The qualification is designed to enhance and acknowledge the quality of innovation, critical review and systematic application of appropriate theories and research to sport performance.

Reflecting the need for flexible, bespoke and industry ready programme content and delivery, the Professional Doctorate is a flexible, blended learning programme that offers students the opportunity to investigate issues from their own specific field and experience and supported to develop evidence-informed solutions to the ‘real-world’ problems.

To this end, the programme was specifically designed to enable students to embed their learning and research within their own professional practice and ensure that the acquired knowledge and understanding gained through the Prof Doc journey can then be integrated directly into the organisations and systems in which they work.

What was the learning and teaching challenge you faced?

  1. The Professional Doctorate in Elite Performance (Sport) is not a ‘domain specific’ programme. As such, the main challenge in module design was ensuring the development of both broad and specific knowledge bases and an interdisciplinary focus.
  2. It was critical that the blended learning strategy was appropriate for part-time students working in diverse and challenging environments.

What was done?/What did you do?

Careful consideration was given to the design and delivery of the 60 credit ‘taught’ component of the Professional Doctorate in Elite Performance, specifically four 15 credit modules that are taken in Year 1 and 2.

These modules are delivered using a blended learning strategy with delivery being undertaken using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous methods.

  1. A ‘flipped classroom’ approach is adopted across the modules where students engage in preparatory work involving independent reading and completion of directed learning tasks scaffolded by synchronous webinars where the focus is on teasing out possible contributing topics and testing the student’s current levels of knowledge and experience with them.
  2. Reflecting the diverse backgrounds of the cohort, a combination of problem based and enquiry based learning typifies delivery. The problems and enquiry questions set are specific to the domain that each individual works in, and as such the students themselves are central to identifying problems and working through them iteratively with the support of scaffolded online learning workshops. A blend of independent study, online activity (where students engage with online material via Loop including but not limited to webinars, online tasks, quizzes, and tutorials) and directed learning (where stimulus presentations and discussion will be used to tease out possible contributing topics and test the student’s current levels of knowledge and experience with them) characterise the modules’ workload.
  3. It was also important to exploit the knowledge, skills and experience that the students brought to the programme. Of course, Covid-19 impacted our ability to organise planned ‘on-campus’ learning blocks. However, student-led webinars were a feature of all modules and offered opportunities for assessment, sharing of practice, and networking amongst the student cohort. Reflecting the diversity of disciplines amongst the cohort, this approach also allowed for the integration of disciplines (e.g., coaching, psychology, strength and conditioning), the development of an important cohort feel within the group, and the fostering of a support network and community of practice.

How did it work for you?

The part-time nature of the Professional Doctorate can be challenging for students and faculty but the blended learning strategies offered students the ability to work through, and even design, their own journey independently whilst also benefiting from opportunities to share and discuss their learning in more structured formats such as tutorials and presentations. This is reflective of the expertise approach that underpins the Professional Doctorate in Elite Performance where the teaching and learning strategies employed focused on developing expert decision makers and problems solvers who can make appropriate judgements in their own (complex) environments.

As is typical of doctoral level study, the relationship between supervisor/faculty and student is central to the Professional Doctorate in Elite Performance where we strive for relationships that are built on respect but grown by challenge, as is typical of the performance domains from which students are recruited.  As such, the interactions, relationships, and the emphasis on formative and forward feedback delivery across all modules supported this approach. The development of these relationships primarily through synchronous delivery was key to the success of the modules.

We worked hard in each module to provide students with opportunities to connect and share practice amongst the cohort. This had a number of benefits. Firstly, reflecting the disconnect that part-time and distance learning students often feel from a student body, this provided the opportunity to foster a support network and community of practice across the cohort. Students really enjoyed and benefitted from face-to-face (or at least Zoom-to-Zoom!) interactions. In many cases, this has led to off-line discussions and collaborations amongst students from both within their own, but often from outside, their own professional environment. 

Secondly, we are able to exploit the diversity within the group and the integration of disciplines (e.g., coaching, teaching, sport science, athletic therapy, leadership) through group discussions and stimulus presentations purposefully designed to pull on an interdisciplinarity focus. Though challenging, this has supported the development of a breadth of knowledge across the modules. As part of this approach we also had the opportunity to invite external speakers to delivery across the modules and this has added huge value to the student experience. In particular, the use of stimulus presentations allowed us to blend synchronous (i.e. lecture/presentation delivery) with asynchronous (i.e., individual tasks, reflective approaches) approaches and to support students to “make sense” of content in their own domain.

What tips would you want to give to another lecturer implementing this practice?

  • Consider the programme of study has a whole rather than independent modules so that students can connect the dots as they progress.
  • Provide students with a roadmap to navigate their programme of study and how and when to access asynchronous material.
  • Building flexibility into your delivery is important for part-time students to ensure that students can access material at the most appropriate time for the student.
  • Time your synchronous and asynchronous content so that there is an appropriate balance across the modules.
  • A focus on formative feedback, especially for this cohort of students, is critical. Embedding the delivery of feedback into your learning strategy through group discussions, peer-to-peer interactions and self-evaluations worked well across the modules.

Reflections and future plans?

Moving forward, we are developing our asynchronous content across all modules. This will provide students with standalone packages of material that can be completed independently and then discussed and challenged in face-to-face settings. Using Loop and 5HP, this will allow a more streamlined approach to the asynchronous module content.

The peer-to-peer interactions and learnings have been a really positive outcome of the modules. As students move into the thesis component of the Professional Doctorate we have a number of strategies to maintain and build up this approach. As students engage in their Prof Doc thesis, two ‘Research in Progress’ seminars will be a yearly feature of the student’s learning journey offering opportunities to share progress, discuss concerns, and foster a community of practice across and between each year group as the programme develops.



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