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Eastern Region Colleges ABC Institute



A dynamic curriculum is constantly changing and growing-- responding to feedback, assimilating new ideas, adapting to learner needs and learning contexts. These decisions are guided and informed by our belief systems, our understanding of how students learn and curriculum principles and practices. Collectively, they form the "decision screens" for the curriculum decisions that we make.


Curriculum Models and Design Principles

Whether we are developing new programs or courses or we are revising existing curriculum, the decisions we make can be informed and guided by applying concepts and principles of curriculum design.

General Concepts and Design Principles

There are several concepts that can guide the development and review of all types of curricula at both the program and course level.

Alignment and Coherence - all parts of the curriculum must be logically consistent with each other. There must be a "match" or a fit between parts.

Scope - the range or extent of "content" (whether information to be learned, skills to be acquired etc.) that will be included in a course or program. It must be sufficient to lead learners to achieve the program or course outcomes. However, there is a constant tension between breadth and depth when considering scope. In general, when deep learning is required, "lean" is best.

Sequence - is the ordering of learning experiences so that learners build on previous experiences and move to broader, deeper or more complex understandings and applications. Common ways of sequencing content within courses include simple to complex, wholes to parts (or part to wholes), prerequisite abilities, and chronological.

Continuity - refers to the vertical repetition of major curriculum elements in different courses over time (also known as vertical organization or articulation). It is important to identify the themes or skills that need to run through a program and to map how they will be addressed at each level.

Integration - refers to the horizontal relationship among major curriculum components at any given point in time (also known as horizontal organization). Integration fosters reinforcement of key learning and is needed to promote application of learning across course boundaries.

Gordon Cawelt (1990) of The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) offered these principles to guide course planning.

1. Offer a balanced core of learning in each course.

2. Adopt the belief that in-depth study of a limited number of important topics will have a more lasting effect than a course that tries to cover too many disconnected bits and pieces of information.

3. Design course outcomes to focus on results, with multiple indicators (assessments) of performance.

4. Design authentic assessments that will encourage originality, insightfulness, and problem-solving, along with master of important information.

5. Design courses to encourage active involvement.

6. Get students "doing" early in the course rather than studying all the principles and basics prior to performing.

Outcome-Based Curriculum

All college programs leading to an Ontario College Credential are guided by standards that are expressed as learning outcomes. Students need to be able to "show what they know"—to demonstrate achievement of these learning outcomes. The curricula that we develop for these programs can be very different across different colleges but all must lead to the achievement of these program level learning outcomes. In this context, some of the concepts and principles linked to outcomes-based curriculum design can guide our work.

What is Outcomes-Based Education (OBE)?

The High Success Network (1992) defines Outcomes-Based Education as "...defining, organizing, focusing, and directing all aspects of a curriculum on the things we want all learners to demonstrate successfully when they complete the program".

Outcomes-based education is a student-centered, results oriented design premised on the belief that all individuals can learn. The strategy of OBE implies the following.

* What students are to learn is clearly identified

* Each student's progress is based on demonstrated achievement

* Each student's learning needs are addressed through multiple instructional strategies and assessment tools

* Each student is provided time and assistance to realize his/her potential.

Boschee and Baron 1993

Some Key Concepts and Principles of Curriculum in an OBE Context

The focus is on results of learning. What learners are expected to learn is clearly identified, expressed as learning outcomes and known to all. Expectations are clear and public.

Curriculum and instruction maintains a clear focus on culminating outcomes—the performances learners must demonstrate to graduate. These are significant performances critical for success in life and work.

Design down (from the performances expected of graduates) and deliver up. Courses and learning experiences are focused and built to help learners achieve the learning outcomes.

Create learning opportunities to help different learners achieve learning outcomes. Learning experiences are activity-based and allow learners to apply and practise what they learn. There can be multiple paths to the achievement of the learning outcomes. OBE suggests that expanded opportunity and flexible paths promote success.

Assessment is standards-referenced and matches the learning outcomes. Learners show that they can perform the learning outcome. Learner progress and the earning of credit is based in a demonstration of the achievement of learning outcomes The University of Guelph has published "A Guide to Developing and Assessing Learning Outcomes". This provides a clear description of how outcomes can be developed and used to frame curriculum decisions. It will be of particular interest to colleges offering degree level programs as it shows how the undergraduate degree level expectations (UDLE's) link to outcomes.

An Inquiry Approach to Curriculum Development

Those who adopt an inquiry approach to curriculum recognize that there is no single recipe for developing an effective curriculum. They realize that curricula are living, dynamic entities in constant flux. They use strategic questions and a variety of people and other data sources to collect information that will help them make curriculum decisions that are best for the learners, for the context and for the curriculum purpose. They investigate curriculum options then critically explore and assess their findings.

Here are examples of some questions that might be asked when developing or revising a program. These are simply examples—not a comprehensive list of questions to be asked.

* Why is this program needed? What is the rationale for the program?

* What are graduates of this program expected to know and to be able to do?

* Are there standards or expectations from professional associations that need to be considered in this curriculum?

* What credential is appropriate for this program?

* How does this program relate to others in this college? Elsewhere?

* Who are the learners likely to be attracted to this program?

* What abilities will students entering the program need to be successful?

* Who are the groups and individuals that should be consulted as we develop/revise this program?

Other Helpful Sites

This article from Faculty Focus entitled Backward Design, Forward Progress, further explores curriculum design models associated with such educators as Dee Fink, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. These sites from the University of Guelph provide an introduction to Universal Instructional Design (UID) and review of the seven principles of Universal Instructional Design. UID was originally developed to help develop instruction that would help learners with disabilities but is now recognized as a useful approach to support learning for all learners.


Learning Principles

There are many variables to consider when making curriculum decisions. A critical one is deciding if the curriculum decision is consistent with what we know about how college students learn. Will the action we propose result in better learning for our students? We are fortunate to be building curriculum at a time when our knowledge about how people learn is growing very quickly. Understanding how people learn and using accepted principles of learning as "decision screens" will help us make more effective curriculum decisions.


Those who hold a constructivist view of learning believe that we build our own knowledge and understanding of the world. We do this by reflecting on and making sense of our experiences, constantly linking new experiences to what we already know so that our "mental models" are constantly changing.

Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner is reported to have said, "Don't ask, how smart I am. Ask, how am I smart?" We know now that people learn many different ways. Keeping this in mind as we design learning experiences and build curriculum enriches learning for all. This site provides an overview of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, tips and resources for its use.

Adult Learning Principles

Although there is some dispute over whether or not adult learning really is any different than learning at any age, we do know that adults bring with them a wealth of experience that influences new learning. Current adult educators have drawn on many different views of learning to identify helpful principles that support adult learning.

Another older article with messages that are relevant to today's learners. This article by Ron and Susan Zemke originally appeared in Innovation Abstracts. It details "30 things we know for sure" about adult learners. Included in this list are 14 items specifically linked to curriculum design.

Learning Styles

We know that we all learn differently and that each student will have his/her own preferred way of perceiving and making sense of the world around them. Different learning style inventories address different variables. Knowing some of these variables can help us to design curriculum that we support all learners. Solomon and Felder have created a Learning Style Index that can be taken (without charge) online. VARK (visual, auditory, read/write, kinesthetic) identifies how we like to take in information.

David Kolb was one of the early developers of a learning style inventory. It was closely linked to his view of experiential learning. The Prof's Resource site at Algonquin College has some information on learning styles.


Educational Beliefs

"I see and I believe."
— Or —
"I believe and I see."

The second statement is as true as the first. As curriculum workers, our values and our beliefs influence and shape the decisions that we make as we build and review curriculum. Our beliefs also contribute to the conceptual framework and philosophical foundation of the curriculum. You may want to review some of these resources to help clarify your values and beliefs.

Teaching Perspectives developed by Pratt and Collins

Daniel Pratt and John Collins have developed a Teaching Perspectives Inventory.

The inventory summarizes five approaches to teaching.

Transmission: Effective teaching requires a substantial commitment to the content or subject matter.

Apprenticeship: Effective teaching is a process of enculturating students into a set of social norms and ways of working.

Developmental: Effective teaching must be planned and conducted "from the learner's point of view".

Nurturing: Effective teaching assumes that long-term, hard, persistent effort to achieve comes from the heart, as well as the head.

Social Reform: Effective teaching seeks to change society in substantive ways.

Curriculum Orientations


John Miller and Wayne Seller in their book, Curriculum: Perspectives and Practice have identified three curriculum metaorientations.

Transmission orientation: Curriculum is designed to transmit facts, skills and values to students. Students master specified content and certain values and mores needed to function in society or work effectively in a career area. What is to be learned is analyzed and broken into small units that are then arranged sequentially and taught using specific instructional strategies.

Transaction orientation: The curriculum is designed to create a dialogue between the students and the curriculum in which students reconstruct knowledge through their engagement with the curriculum. There is an emphasis on curriculum strategies that facilitate problem-solving and the development of cognitive skills.

Transformation orientation: The curriculum is more open ended and focuses on personal and social change. Students learn skills that promote social and personal change. Learning experiences are viewed holistically. The interdependent nature of the world and the interrelatedness of phenomena are key values in this orientation. The curriculum and the student interact with each other in a holistic manner.

See a chart comparing these three orientations to curriculum.

Developing an Educational Philosophy


You may want to think about your own educational philosophy.

These prompts to help faculty develop/update their educational philosophy were adapted from material originally developed by Georgian College for their new faculty mentoring program. It is used with permission from and thanks to Georgian College.

The sentence starters and questions below can be used to generate dialogue around your beliefs about teaching, learning and curriculum.

I believe students...

I believe learning...

I believe success in learning is measured by...

I believe students learn best when...

I believe evaluation of learning...

I believe students are motivated to learn when...

I believe students are de-motivated when...

I believe teaching...

I believe success in teaching is determined by...

I believe the source of curriculum is...

I believe the purpose of curriculum is...

I believe that curriculum should be organized by...

I believe that what to include/exclude in curriculum can be determined by......

What has influenced your philosophy and how? (i.e. past teaching/learning experiences, subject area, learning style, teaching style, knowledge about teaching or learning, theories, writers, other educators)

Significant Influences

How it influences philosophy


How will/does your philosophy impact what happens as you build and review curriculum?

Tania Fera-VanGent from Niagara College produced this tip sheet to help teachers develop or review their philosophy of teaching. You will find additional resources for further exploration listed here as well. Teaching Philosophy (.pdf)

For other resources on developing an educational philosophy you may want to visit:

The Centre for Educational Excellence at the University of Waterloo suggests exercises that can help teachers develop a teaching philosophy.

This Handbook of Teaching developed at the University of Manitoba is full of helpful resources.  Chapter 5:  Reflecting on the Practice of Teaching would be very helpful for college faculty wanting to explore and/or clarify their values and beliefs about curriculum.