Curriculum Design

Resource Title:
Curriculum Design

Key Definitions & Frameworks


The curriculum is an “academic plan,” which should include: the purpose of the curriculum (i.e., goals for student learning), content, sequence (the order of the learning experience), instructional methods, instructional resources, evaluation approaches, and how adjustments to the plan will be made based on experience or assessment data.
(Lattuca, L. & Stark, J. (2009) Shaping the college curriculum: Academic plans in context. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.)
  • The intended curriculum is the documented, official plan -- or what faculty hope students will learn.
  • The achieved curriculum includes knowledge, skills and attitudes that are truly learned and remembered.
    (Cuban, L. (1992). Curriculum stability and change. In Jackson, Philip (Ed.) Handbook of Research on Curriculum. American Educational Research Association)

Assessment can be helpful in better understanding alignment between an intended and achieved curriculum.

Goals and objectives are the general intended purposes and desired achievements of a particular educational environment. Crucially, they provide a framework for assessing the effectiveness of a curriculum. Goals and objectives generally characterize three types of learning: knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

Learning outcomes and competencies describe specific measurable skills, knowledge or attitudes that learners will have achieved through the education program. The term "outcome" is usually used to describe the level of proficiency that a graduate should be expected to demonstrate, while "competencies" is typically used to describe a level of proficiency needed by a beginning professional in the field.

When developing or revising a curriculum, curriculum maps or matrices can help educators concretely describe the sequence of courses/content and more easily conceptualize how different pieces of the curriculum work together as a whole. They can also identify gaps in a curriculum or a need to re-think course sequencing.

Benchmarking involves making comparisons of educational experiences at peer institutions or programs. It can be useful to identify key courses or educational experiences that peer programs are offering.

Useful Resources

This document lists principles to consider when assessing the quality of curricula in a review process. These principles apply both to college-wide and more restricted disciplinary curricula and to curricula at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. This resource also offers tips for clearly defining curricular outcomes.
The National Academy for Academic Leadership: Curriculum Review (Diamond & Gardiner, 2000)
This resource includes a number of key questions to ask when reviewing curricula. Although designed for reviewing curricula that already exist, many of these questions also can be helpful when beginning to design a new curriculum.
This comprehensive booklet from the University of Western Ontario includes a brief discussion of the “hidden curriculum” (p. 11), which is often learned more readily, understood more thoroughly, and remembered longer than is the official curriculum.
How to Write a Program Mission Statement (University of Connecticut)
This step-by-step overview discusses how to create a mission statement, which can be a useful foundational document to guide the development of a program's goals and objectives.

CRLT Services for Curriculum Design

CRLT staff work with groups of faculty in departments or schools/colleges to
  • review their current curricula, 
  • develop new curricular offerings, and
  • evaluate the results of curricular changes.
For example, CRLT staff consult on topics such as the development of measurable outcomes or curriculum mapping. CRLT also can assist with retreat planning, for the purposes of curriculum alignment or preparation for assessment team visits.