Curriculum Planning/Content and Curriculum

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Looking at the Content:[edit | edit source]

Content includes strategies, curriculum, and resources

Content and Curriculum[edit | edit source]

The term “curriculum” properly refers to the total learning experience provided by a school or training event. It includes the learning objectives (or outcomes), the assessments used to determine that the objectives have been achieved, and the content required to get from objectives to successful assessment.

What must be learned?[edit | edit source]

The first step in curriculum development is to determine what must be learned. What, exactly, must the learner know and be able to do as a result of this training? What foundational skills must be in place before comprehensive training can begin? What does the learner already know?

1. Learning objectives/outcomes[1] describe the knowledge, skills and behaviours that the learner will be able to perform when they have successfully completed the training. The following are examples of ways to develop a good list of learning objectives:

  • Occupational analysis: When the training is designed to prepare the learner for a specific job, an occupational analysis is the best choice. In some cases, an occupational analysis may already be available (e.g. from government sources). If an occupational analysis must be developed, a process such as a DACUM job analysis is a good way to do this. In the DACUM process, expert workers in the occupation are guided by a facilitator to identify the tasks (competencies) of the occupation, along with the supportive enablers such as knowledge and skills, tools and equipment, and worker behaviours. For more information about curriculum development using the DACUM process, see
  • Academic analysis: If the purpose of the training is to prepare learners for more advanced education, the follow-on course or program can be used to define the learning objectives for the preparatory program. Curriculum development will involve looking at the entrance requirements for the follow-on course (or perhaps the content of the required textbook) and designing learning activities that will prepare the learner for the next course.

2. Essential (or foundational, basic, employability, etc.) skills: Some skills are so basic that they are required for almost any job. Essential skills are transferable skills that enable us to perform tasks in work, learning, and life. These skills help us to learn other skills, such as technical skills and other job-specific skills. Knowledge of these foundational skills also helps us to adjust to change, critical for today’s communities and workplaces. The Government of Canada ( describes 9 such Essential Skills:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Document Use
  • Numeracy
  • Computer Use
  • Thinking
  • Oral Communication
  • Working with Others
  • Continuous Learning

These skills should be developed, to different levels of competence, depending on the goals of the training. Research shows that these skills are best taught when they are embedded in the learning activities for the training, rather than as separate courses or modules.

3. Assessment of what the learner already knows. A learning gap analysis (if available) is a comparison of what the learner needs to know in order to achieve the results of the training, with what the learner already knows. Ideally, this will be done by a comprehensive assessment of prior learning. However, this is often not possible. An assessment of prior learning may be estimated by:

  • Having the learner complete a short test prior to the training
  • Interviewing the learner to uncover what he/she already knows about the subject matter
  • Watching the learner perform tasks related to the training, to assess what he/she already knows and can do
  • Beginning the training event with a short question-and-answer period to get a sense of what the group already knows.Even an informal assessment of prior learning can be very valuable in helping the trainer to establish a starting point for the training. Training is most effective when it re-ignites prior learning and then builds on what the learner already knows.

Finding and selecting content[edit | edit source]

Content includes all forms in which knowledge is presented to the student. Content can be delivered in a textbook, a student workbook or manual, a series of lectures or demonstrations, an online course, or a series of handouts. Content must be appropriate to the topics of the training. Depending on the nature of the subject matter, content may be plentiful, scarce, or non-existent. Whether you have many options to choose from or you have to write your own, you’ll want to consider a number of factors.

1. Content available to meet objectives/outcomes:

Usually this is accomplished by consulting Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who are familiar with the topics and may have taught this material before.

  • Is an SME (preferably more than one) available to ask about content? Are they familiar not only with the subject matter but also the level at which this will be taught? Do they have any teaching experience?
  • Is there a standard text for this subject matter which is already being successfully used in this general learning environment? Is it available/in print/affordable?

2. Content familiar to this audience:

Consider using content that is similar (or superior) to what the learner is already familiar with. Perhaps the potential learners can answer the following:

  • What materials (textbook, lectures, demonstrations, etc.) did you use in your last training?
  • Can you show me examples of the materials you used?
  • Were the materials useful?
  • Which parts of the training did the materials help you learn? Which parts were not useful?
  • How do you prefer to learn something, in general: by reading about it? Listening to someone tell you about it? Practicing it yourself? Talking with others about it?

3. Readability:

Readability refers to the ease with which a reader can understand a written text[2]. The readability of a piece of text depends on the complexity of its content as well as its presentation (affected by factors such as font type and size, line length, etc.). Various tools have been developed to estimate the readability of a piece of text and the result is often shown as an approximate school grade level.

Some common readability tools (to analyze English texts) include:

  • Flesch formulas*
  • Dale–Chall formula
  • Gunning fog formula
  • Fry readability graph
  • SMOG formula
*Flesch formulas are directly available in MS Word.

To determine the reading level of your learner audience, collect a few documents of items they are currently reading (if at all possible -- this may include local newspapers, church bulletins, etc.). Apply one of the readability formulas listed above to a sample of text. In general, when developing new material for your learners to read, aim for a readability equal to (or less than) what they are optimally able to read with understanding.

4. Other factors affecting Content choice:

Often, the content will be specified in the training contract or already suggested by the subject matter. Nevertheless, the following questions may be helpful:

  • Is the content current? This may be especially important if the training concerns a rapidly-changing field (e.g. technology, medicine, some types of equipment)
  • Is available content sufficient? Or should additional sources of content be located?
  • Are assessments already available for this content (e.g. question banks)? Or must assessments be created from scratch?
  • If this training program is designed primarily to prepare the learners for a more advanced program, will the content you select help them transition to the content they’ll encounter in the follow-on program?
  • If a textbook is required, is it affordable? Is an open alternative available? (e.g. as an Open Educational Resource, or OER?) Must it be printed or can learners access it online or on a mobile device?

5. Timeframe and Scheduling

Almost all training takes place within a given timeframe. Usually, the timeframe will be specified in the training contract. Questions to consider about scheduling include:

  • Training start-, end dates and total training hours:
    • If total training hours are specified, do they include expected time spent on homework and/or on-the-job training, or just the hours spent in the classroom?
    • If hours are specified, does the amount seem sufficient to accomplish the learning objectives with this group of learners?
    • Does the training period include any holidays or other times when training may not be possible?
    • Will there be other training dates (e.g. guest teachers, specialists, on-the-job training events etc.) that must be accommodated?
  • Scheduling and reporting
    • During what times (daily hours, days per week) will learners expect to be available for training?
    • At what times during the curriculum planning, delivery, and testing must you report back to whomever has requested and funded this training?

If at all possible, draft a schedule indicating which topics will be covered each day. Include testing dates, holidays, etc. Ensure each learner gets a copy, post the schedule in a prominent place, and refer to it often.

How can we be sure that learning has taken place?[edit | edit source]

A training program becomes far more useful when the learning is assessed, achievements are documented, and the program is evaluated (evaluation will be covered in the next section). As a general rule, every learning objective/outcome should have an assessment, and every assessment should relate directly to a learning objective/outcome.

Ideally, a training Assessment Plan will include the following elements:

Assessment of prior learning / prerequisites for training:

Some sort of formal pre-test or informal interview of potential students will give the trainer a better idea of where to focus valuable training time. Ask:

  • What do the learners already know about the topic? What skills can they already do?
  • What kinds of assessments are they already familiar with?
  • Will they be comfortable with non-traditional kinds of assessment? (Traditional written tests may not be appropriate to assess the learning of some topics, especially training that involves the acquisition of hands-on skills or the development of new attitudes.)
  • Have these learners suffered test anxiety? (For these individuals a traditional test may be an inaccurate way to find out what they know.)

Assessments required for learning outcomes:

  • Does every learning outcome have a corresponding assessment? Does every assessment correspond (directly or indirectly) to a listed learning outcome?
  • Are the assessments appropriate to the type of learning outcome? For example, are skills-based objectives assessed by watching the learner practice the skill?

Informal assessment strategies:

Not all assessment needs to be done in a formal, “testing” way. Some types of learning can be easily assessed in informal ways; e.g.

  • Will the training environment allow for informally asking questions of the learners throughout the training period?
  • Will the class size be small enough such that the trainer can accurately estimate how well each learner is mastering the material? Will the trainer be able to observe as each learner practices new skills?

Authentic and Competency-based assessments:

Authentic assessment is assessment that is designed to mirror the way a skill or knowledge should be applied in the workplace. Competency-based assessment is an assessment of what the learner actually knows and can do, rather than what they are able to answer on a test.

  • Will it be possible to set up assessments in workplace-like settings? For example, could a learner’s cooking skill be assessed in an authentic kitchen setting? Could knowledge about a specific kind of equipment be demonstrated on the equipment itself?
  • Which learning outcomes can be assessed with just a written test? Which ones would best be assessed by watching the learner actually demonstrate their competence?

Formative assessment strategies:

Formative assessments are assessments designed to give the learner feedback about their progress. Helping learners to become more self-aware students and to accurately assess their own progress is ideal. Formative assessment events may or may not contribute to the final grade (if grades are given).

  • In what ways can the trainer help learners to (self-) assess their progress?
  • Is peer assessment (in which learners assess each other according to a rubric or checklist) a possibility for at least some of the learning objectives?
  • Can the training include some low- or no-stakes testing throughout the course?
  • Will the learner be given opportunities to retry a test or other assessment?

Summative assessment strategy(ies):

Summative assessments are those given at the end of a training program to determine if the overall goals of the program have been met.

  • Is a summative assessment already designated? For example, is there a standard final exam for this type of training? If a specific final exam is already determined, make sure that learners are well aware of the type, breadth, and length of the exam.
  • Will the trainer be expected to mark the summative assessment or must an external examiner be involved? If so, should this be scheduled?
  • Will the final exam setting be similar to the training environment? If not, learners should be aware.
  • If the trainer will be responsible for the summative assessment, must the assessment cover the entire course, or only certain sections (e.g. the last third or only units designated as essential)?
  • How will the final grade be calculated? For example, will the summative assessment count for the entire final grade or will formative assessments also count for a percentage?

Certification and/or accreditation:

  • How will learners be informed about their final grades (if grades are assigned) or completion of training?
  • How will training results be recorded? Will a written certification be provided? Will records be stored electronically?
  • How will results be communicated to follow-on training programs (if applicable to this training)?
  • Will the learner have any recourse if he/she wishes to contest a final grade?

Of course, not every program can afford to include every aspect of a comprehensive assessment plan. At the very least, trainers need to know:

  • At what points during a lecture or demonstration can the trainer ask questions to check for comprehension?
  • If the learners are learning practical skills, will there be opportunities for the trainer to observe them practising the skill, and to provide feedback?
  • Will there be opportunities for the learners to assess their own progress (self-assessment) or each other (peer assessment)?
  • Will some sort of final grade or report of learning be required for each learner? Where, how, and to whom should this information be given?

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  1. Learning objectives and learning outcomes are essentially the same thing. In some academic cultures, the term learning objectives is used to refer to learning achievements (generally knowledge and skills) that are relatively easy to observe and measure; while the term learning outcomes is used to refer to broader learning goals.
  2. From Wikipedia: