Award-winning teaching on an award-winning programme: PBL on the MSc Sports Performance – dr catherine norton, course director, msc sports performance.

PESS faculty teaching into our MSc Sports Performance LM 629 (FT) and LM646 (PT) programmes have adopted innovative techniques in support of the attainment of key learning outcomes and graduate attributes which were recently recognised by an Education & Health Sciences faculty Excellence in Team Teaching Award . 

The three modules offered under the Professional Competencies suite (SS6003/13/23) showcase innovative teaching, learning and assessment opportunities for our students.

The ‘Professional Competencies Problem Based Learning (PBL)’ suite comprise three intensive modules that provide a vehicle for students to learn in a multidisciplinary environment, integrating applied learning and experience from several disciplines to solve complex problems in sport sciences. The key aim is to instil an evidence-based practice approach to the delivery of sport sciences support to athletes through innovative technologies (lab and field-based) across key sport and exercise science disciplines. Each week of the professional competencies modules, a different high performance athlete meets the class, discussing in a round table format a specific [sports performance] problem they are encountering. Supplemented with medical (MRI, doctor, physiotherapist, performance nutrition reports), video (match and training movement), and performance data (competition time, sleep patterns and additional dietary data) collected using novel technology, students develop biofeedback monitoring protocols to further assess, rehabilitate and/or prevent such problems for this athlete in the future. At the end of an intensive PBL week, students present their findings and recommendations to the athlete and support staff, effecting change in practice within the profession.

Pedagogic frameworks underpinning the teaching and learning activities are problem-based learning, inter-professional education, competency-based learning and learning-by-doing. Assessments aspire to the philosophy of ‘authentic assessment’, a term used to describe linking of assessment tasks with the type of tasks in which graduates will engage within their professional careers.

Student feedback across these modules has been wholly positive since their conception. Faculty have also been responsive to student commentary to further enhance the delivery, learning and student experience.

The teaching team (Catherine Norton, Mark Lyons, Ian Kenny, Frank Nugent and Giles Warrington) has been invited to submit evidence of teaching excellence for consideration at University level.

The MSc in Sports Performance was awarded the Grad Ireland Higher Education Award for best postgraduate programme in the Health Sciences category in 2019. The reviewers commented that “this course bridges the gap between researchers and practitioners…” We believe that the problem based learning approach and authenticity in teaching and learning activities, as well as assessments plays a significant role in this commendation.

We are currently preparing athlete centered problems for use in the summer semester for these modules and are excited to bring new challenges and new athlete support teams to develop multidisciplinary communities of learning. Our students will devise evidence based and innovative solutions to real-world athlete challenges.

Readers interested in learning more about this programme can do so at  or by contacting the course director


Dr. Catherine Norton, is a registered dietitian and performance nutritionist and the Course Director of the MSc Sports Performance in the Department of Physical Education & Sport Sciences, UL.  Dr. Norton is a researcher in Food for Health and Performance Nutrition.

Contact: Twitter: @NortonNutrition


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