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Process-Based Curriculum Development

Process-Based Curriculum Development


By Ruth Reynard, Ph.D., Director of Curriculum and Instructional Design, AHED

The challenge of curriculum design and development is the essential nature of what that involves and the levels at which a curriculum is delivered and used. While we have “learning outcomes” and goals and objectives which all may seem quantifiable using various assessments, the process that attains those outcome and objectives, is often complicated, dynamic, and less quantifiable. It is a process that involves a balance of content, teaching and learning. Therefore, in any curriculum development project, content, process, delivery and support are all required and should be equally planned for, developed, and evaluated. Curriculum, then, is one aspect of the product in education, however, it is not a static entity; it is dynamic and is produced when several sources and participants meet, engage and deliver a context, an experience or an applied use of the knowledge and skills developed in the process of teaching and learning.

The tension and dynamics between these sources and participants is difficult to manage and also to maximize. When one or other is dominant, the product diminishes. Keeping effective balance is the goal. When content drives the process, the experience can become static, dull and unclear to students. When the teacher drives the process, students become passive and unengaged. When students drive the process, chaos can reign as each student is different from the other and there are multiple learning preferences and styles and needs in any group of students on ground or online. Therefore, again, the focus must be on the balance of each of these and the overall process.

Figure 1


Balanced instruction

In referring to Figure 1, the triangle represents a balanced relationship and integration of the three foundational aspects of teaching and learning: Teaching, learning, curriculum. Effective learning environments are not dominated by teachers or students or dominated by the curriculum – the best environments balance the three. Instructors must be focused on this balance and work to maintain it in each class meeting or student connection. However, in order for instructors to maintain this balance, the learning environment must be flexible, customizable in reaching the learning outcomes of the course. Teacher training is important to help teachers understand that the goal is not to complete every point in the material or content of a course, but to point students in the direction of the outcomes and provide various sources of information and content and various opportunities for students to interact with that content, reach out to the instructor for guidance, but also develop their own skills in cognitive processing, and application of the content in meaningful ways that will enhance their retention and use of that information. Learning outcomes, then, should not include only content objectives, but active application and use of new knowledge gained in the learning process. That is when true learning takes place. (Dirkx (2000); Wink (2005).

Figure 2


Balanced preparation

Much has been written about linguistic schema, needed for clear access to understanding. This discourse affirms that the schema is what influence the context of understanding we all have and may not even be aware that we have. These involve language and culture. Teachers should provide time and opportunity for schema to be accessed and utilized. Additionally, new schema can be constructed so that students have a frame of reference that is always there when needed to help them understand and apply their learning. In the vocational and career educational world, the three areas of influence which must be considered when supporting students in the construction of new schema are academic, professional and social in essence and application. Please refer to Figure 2. In this field, we must focus on maintaining a balance of all three in preparing our students for success personally, professionally, and academically. Again, as in the previous triad, if any are dominant, the other areas will be diminished. Any curriculum we develop must include opportunities for direct application of new knowledge academically, to increase understanding, professionally, to increase relevance, and socially, to maximize the full integration of the student in reference to others.

Please refer to Figure 3. This now illustrates the expanding of two triads into a connected whole that shows the interdependence of each aspect of the entire process. Teachers should be as intentional as possible with the content, the learning supports, and the application of new knowledge so that every one of these can be included.

Figure 3


This diagram illustrates each aspect connected, not in a linear flow, but as an interconnected process. That is, there is no particular order as each student, each class, each course, is different. This must remain a dynamic process throughout for real success.

Begin with the end in mind

Curriculum should not be thought of as a “boxed” item. Curriculum does include content items otherwise referred to as “instructional material;” curriculum may include a textbook and other learning resources. Curriculum must also include, however, as discussed above, the process of learning, the constructed schema and the balance of all aspects in the flow. Therefore, when establishing outcome for a course, it is critical to establish clear, yet “expandable” outcomes that integrate all aspects of curriculum balance with active and applied use of the new knowledge gained in the course. Additionally, course descriptions should fully support the outcomes, not the objectives alone and assessments should be designed to fully evaluate the full process and not just simple facts or passive information.

When designing and developing a full curriculum of study, it is vital to identify the full scope including all participants. For example:

  • Content experts – when possible, if making changes or modifications to a curriculum, it is important to involve those already teaching it. Instructors should become familiar with the idea that a curriculum should never “stand still” but should always be changing and modified to suit the diversity of student needs and goals. Conducting PACs (advisory groups) helps to make sure that curricular designs and outcomes are current and meeting new trends in the field as well as employer requirements.
  • Writers – good instructors are not always good writers. It is important to identify those who write well and are able to write in an objective way beyond their own specific style and preferences.
  • Instructors – prepare instructors through content review, teaching effectiveness training, and a reminder of how to teach to outcomes rather than tests. Provide adequate technology training and LMS (Learning Management System) training.
  • Instructional Design – this should be clear, but flexible as discussed above. On-going edits, changes, modifications are key in a dynamic and effective learning environment. Involve your LMS professionals early in the process!
  • Stake Holders – these should include campus administrators, admissions, career services, student support; library staff and services and regular revisions of collections and resources; current and prospective students and faculty.

To keep any curriculum evaluation and development relevant, students past and present should always be involved to speak to the clarity of the content and process and the helpfulness and relevancy of the application opportunities in the classroom, online, through externships and other professional contexts.

When developing instructional and content items “from scratch” and designing and writing content, it is important to consider the following:

  1. Research current sector trends and employment specifics in order to cover all requirements;
  2. Contact content experts who have curriculum writing experience and work with them to scope out a program including skill checklists and practice as well as required knowledge and best practices;
  3. Review the social and professional preparation aspects and make sure those are included in the course planning;
  4. Engage various levels of reviewers and compliance expertise;
  5. Provide previews to campuses and enlist their support in preparing their support staff and faculty for the new programs;
  6. Involve LMS professionals and admissions, marketing and career services personnel to ensure the logistics of the work created and its delivery and relevancy.


There are various levels of curriculum development, then. There are the levels of “pre-design and development” that scopes out and provides content, material, supporting resources etc., and there is also the level of application and process. In both levels, all aspects of the dynamic process of teaching and learning should be accommodated which is why so many and various sources and participants should be involved as discussed above. The application and delivery then integrates the pre-design with the actual flow and process of learning and should be evaluated when the demonstration and application of the learning have taken place. While we may continue to use multiple choice quizzes and exams, there should always be multiple ways that teachers can check for understanding and modify the construction of the schema involved, as well as provide opportunities for students to demonstrate and apply what they have learned within meaningful contexts of real life use. This will show clearly of learning has taken place and will confirm for the student him or herself that they have actually learned something useful.

A final note must involve literacy. No discussion of teaching and learning or curriculum development is ever complete without a reference to the intentional development of literacy. This refers to both the conventional definitions of literacy: listening, speaking, reading and writing, and understanding; and the new literacy skills required in the digital world within which we now live and work. While traditionally, there are courses to specifically address these skills, in any learning environment, teachers should ensure that students are using all of the literacy skills and provided opportunity to expand those skills in their learning process. The full implications of that could be addressed in another article. For now, just to conclude this discussion with an encouragement for all teachers who develop process-based curriculum in every class or student group to intentionally provide as many opportunities as possible to increase student literacy skills.


Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power and pedagogy: bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon [England]; Buffalo, NY: Multilingual Matters.

Dirkx, J.M. (2000). Transformative Learning and the Journey of Individuation. Eric Clearinghouse.

Reynard, R. (2009). Learner Autonomy. Academic Exchange, Summer 2009.Vol 13, Issue 2 ISSN 1096-1453. The copyright is 2009 Academic Exchange Quarterly, P.O. Box 131 Stuyvessant Falls, NY 12174, USA

Wink, J. (2005). Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the Real World. Pearson.

Ruth Reynard

DR. REYNARD has over 20 years’ experience in adult, community, and higher education in the U.S. and Canada. She has worked extensively with program managers, faculty, and departmental administrators to design instructional programs in various academic and vocational program areas and deliveries. In addition, she has developed customized English Language programs in N. America, China and the Middle East. These programs were enriched by her personal and educational exposure to language and culture in N. America, Europe, China, and Africa. Ruth holds a Ph.D. from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto (OISE/UT). Her graduate work focused on diversity awareness, inclusive curriculum planning, instructional design, distance learning, and Internet-mediated learning environments. Dr. Reynard has regularly contributed to online publications such as Campus Technology and T.H.E. Journal and currently edits a teaching journal for career faculty published by Pearson Publishers.

Contact Information: Ruth Reynard, Ph.D. // Director of Curriculum and Instructional Design // AHED // 224-520-4109 // ruthreynard@gmail.com // www.drruthreynard.com



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