Learning Differentiated Curriculum Design in Higher Education

Cover of Learning Differentiated Curriculum Design in Higher Education


Table of contents

(10 chapters)
Chapter Summary

Chapter 1 builds a shared understanding of the definition and role of curriculum in learning. The attributes of a curriculum are presented and described with the research literature. The role and function of these attributes in the design of an effective learning experience are examined in detail.

As there are multiple meanings of the word “curriculum” in use, it is necessary to define this term as used in this work. This definition is not meant to suggest that this is the “one,” “true,” or “only” way to conceive of the term, but instead to suggest a useful and practical conceptual framework for curriculum as a multidimensional, dynamic, and causal component of the instructional system. This definition provides the conceptual framework for curriculum as used in this work.

The term derived from a Latin word (currere) denotes “a race course” (Etymology Online, 2018). Educators in the sixteenth century borrowed this denotation for what is now higher education to increase “order” in the learning processes and enhance learning (Hamilton, 2013). The term now describes the collection of learning experiences in a prescribed instructional unit of study, leading to a defined outcome.

The purpose and function of the curriculum in the learning process are to organize, order, and structure the learning process to facilitate learning. In this system of design, three global dimensions are differentiated to promote and enhance the learning of all individuals who pursue it. These global dimensions determine a learner’s ability to engage with, learn from, and demonstrate authentically the intended learning articulated in the curriculum.

The attributes of an effective curriculum are extracted from the educational literature and converted into criteria with which to evaluate a completed curriculum. These criteria include externally valid content, coherence, alignment, interconnectedness, complexity, and the inclusion of opportunities to demonstrate the expected outcomes. Additionally, the structure of the course groupings is evaluated by the criteria of structure, integration, sequence, and consistency. Each of these standards is discussed and explained as it applies to the design of effective curricula.

Chapter Summary

Chapter 2 explains and demonstrates a systematic and science-based approach to the design of instructional systems. These design characteristics are related to the attributes of an effective curriculum discussed in Chapter 1. The consequences of the lack of a conceptual framework and its effects upon learning are discussed.

This curriculum design process employs a systematic approach in which each component of the curriculum is designed to reflect the optimal model for configuring the engagement, experience, and environment for the intended learning. Multiple sciences, theories, and research findings are used to inform and order each component into an effective and efficient learning process. As these components communicate the content and articulate the structure of learning, this approach optimizes the ability of the curriculum to capitalize upon the known or suspected qualities of the human perceptual system.

In this system of curriculum design, both the content and structure of the curriculum emerge from the collective intelligence of the discipline. The curriculum designer translates that disciplinary content and structure into learning objects (content) or events (structure) that drives and constrains the learner’s ability to achieve the learning, as conceived by the discipline. In this model of curriculum design, three dimensions of curriculum design differentiate the contribution to the learning processes of the learner. The dynamic interaction of three instructional dimensions enables the learner to engagement, participate in the learning, and benefit from the characteristics of the learning environment.

These three dimensions function as design variables and differentiate each dimension of the curriculum by the characteristics of the intended learning, the processes of instruction, and the consideration of the predispositions of the learners. The theories most concerned with the psychophysics of learning are used to organize and articulate the learning engagement components (learning outcomes and objectives) of the curriculum. The instructional theories plan the strategies that will be used to deliver the intended learning as identified and organized in the learning objectives to engineer a compelling learning experience. The sociological theories structure the learning activities to produce an efficient, consonant, and synergistic learning environment. Together, the use of these theories as design templates constitutes an evidence-based approach to the systematic design of the curriculum. These theories are transformed into design templates.

The design of the learning environment is also configured to engineer the learning environment to accommodate the cultural dispositions programmed into all learners. Cultural factors supply powerful drivers and constraints for human behavior and can be differentiated in the learning environment to promote and enhance learning. Cultural behaviors and mores are developed over hundreds of years and refined to ensure the continuation of a society and its “way of life.” These cultural traditions have effectively promoted and enhanced social behavior by programming each with cognitive strategies to ensure their success as a member of their social group. Individuals are unlikely or unable to discard these traditions when they enter a learning environment.

Chapter Summary

The process of differentiating each of the dimensions of learning is demonstrated by the application of three possible conceptual frameworks for each dimension, which are based on the theories of learning, instruction, and environment. Multiple existing theories apply to each dimension of the curriculum, including one framework that is a synthesis of several related theories. The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate how theories may be adapted into design templates and used to configure the components of the curriculum. The outcome of this process is to create coherent curricula through the practical application of theories of learning as design templates.

A blueprint template is presented to visualize the internal alignment, interconnectedness, and overall coherence of each curriculum. This template visually depicts the functional interactions between the curricular components as dynamic relationships. This tool reveals the design relationships within the curriculum for purposes of design and evaluation. For curriculum design purposes, this form is used to establish and maintain the alignment among the dimensions of a curriculum (horizontally in the template) as well as the interconnectedness of the components. Engagement with the learning process begins by translating the content of each learning objective into instructional objectives, which aligns the instructional components with each learning objective. The instructional objectives are configured to align the content and structure contained in the outcomes and objectives with the instructional components. In this curriculum design system, the instructional taxonomies of Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, and Krathwohl (1956) are adapted as design templates to demonstrate three strategies to configure the structure of the learning engagement dimension into three distinct purposes of developing cognition, skills, or values within each dimension (vertically in the template).

The learning experience in this curriculum demonstration differentiates three distinct instructional functions: the learning of thinking skills, the learning of performance skills, and the learning of values-based performance. A template adapted from credible theories of instruction configures the specified learning.

Three models also differentiate the learning environment dimension of a curriculum. The learning environment is structured to deliver learning through individual, cooperative, or collaborative processes. Although the environmental considerations mostly impact the activities through which learners interact with the content of the curriculum (reinforcement activities, assignments, assessments), the environmental factors influence all components of the curriculum and can be differentiated to promote and enhance learning. From the learner perspective, the learning environment is created by the dynamic interaction of all components of the curriculum to facilitate an unobstructed path to learning.

Chapter Summary

This chapter presents five differentiated models of curriculum, each designed with templates created from learning theories. The discipline of distributed leadership is chosen to develop a cognition-based curriculum, a behavior-based curriculum, a performance-based curriculum, a values-based curriculum, and collectively arranged into a competency-based curriculum. The research literature frames the attributes of a competency-based curriculum on psychological competence.

In this chapter, curricula are developed to demonstrate the process of adapting theories of learning, instruction, and environment into design templates with which to differentiate the dimensions and components of a curriculum. In these curricula, multiple conceptual frameworks are employed to translate the content and structure of the discipline into instructional objectives, instructional engagement, instructional experience, and instructional environment to align the instructional processes with the intended learning. For these demonstrations, the discipline of organizational leadership is chosen due to the multidimensional structure of this discipline and the opportunities it presents to differentiate the curriculum and learning. Each component of the curriculum adapts an appropriate framework to align and interconnect the instructional processes into an optimized learning experience. The result is curricula that have a coherent flow horizontally across the components for each outcome as well as interconnectedness vertically between the outcomes. This approach creates coherence, alignment, and interconnectedness to the curricula and order to the learning process for the learners.

This methodology is applied to design the curriculum for five instructional modules. Module 1 focuses on dualistic thinking developed through a cognition-based curriculum. Module 2 presents a multiplistic learning experience through a behavior-based curriculum. Module 3 presents relativistic learning through a performance-based curriculum. Module 4 delivers complex learning through a values-based curriculum. Module 5 compiles these four modules into a competency-based curriculum model.

Each of these modules employs a unique set of theories to configure the components of the curricula to reflect the structure of each discipline. The use of each theory is explained and demonstrated in the design process.

Chapter Summary

In this chapter, each of the completed models of curriculum is presented and evaluated using criteria from the attributes of effective curricula discussed in Chapter 1. Explanations of the design strategies that are used to demonstrate each attribute in a differentiated manner are included. The evaluation process provides an evaluation methodology to demonstrate the effectiveness of each model of a curriculum in a credible and trustworthy way.

In the previous chapters, the individual parts of the curricula were configured, aligned, and interconnected to deliver specific outcomes in each learning module. In this chapter, the components of each curriculum are assembled into one table to exhibit the order contained within each learning module within the overall curriculum. The standards for curricular attributes adopted at the beginning of the design process are the criteria for the evaluation of the completed curriculum. The strategies used to configure the components of each curriculum provide evidence of the curriculum’s characteristics, which demonstrate compliance with each criterion.

The evaluation of these attributes within a curriculum serves several purposes. First, they provide a checklist to guide the design process toward curricula that reflect these standards as developed by the profession of curriculum design in higher education. Second, they provide a measurement of the attributes of the curriculum to demonstrate the compliance of each curricular design with conventional standards. Third, these measurements can be compared with other institutional data to uncover correlations between the design assumptions and learner performance. These correlations often reveal unanticipated results, which inform the effectiveness of the instructional system.

These criteria are applied to the evaluation of the curriculum for each module to demonstrate the diverse manner in which each can be achieved in a discipline-specific manner. The compliance with these criteria is explained to be a matter of demonstration, as used in the discipline of qualitative research. These qualitative evaluations can then be compared with other operational data to understand the effectiveness of the design assumptions for each curriculum.

Chapter Summary

This chapter reviews the strategies, methods, and techniques used in this system of curriculum design to configure effective curricula, which translate the content and structure of a discipline into credible and trustworthy techniques of curriculum design. The impact of these design strategies is discussed as a method to facilitate, promote, and enhance learning through a differentiated design of the curriculum in any discipline.

The systematic design of curriculum presented in this text seeks to provide order and accessibility to the intended learning. The systematic configuration of the dimensions of the curriculum by adapting frameworks from the best evidence of how humans learn as codified in the theories of learning, instruction, and environmental influences achieves this goal. This approach removes the intellectual, psychological, and sociologic impediments to learning so that learners can achieve the intended goals without having to decipher the intended learning, reconcile differences between the articulated learning and the learning strategies, and overcome the social constraints imposed by a dissonant or hostile learning environment. The goal of a curriculum in this process is to structure, facilitate, and support the learning experience through evidence-based curriculum design.

The theories adapted as design templates represent the collective intelligence of the profession and the differences in perspective affirmatively differentiate the structure and processes of learning to configure the dimensions of a curriculum to align with the intellectual structure of the discipline (Gardner, 1999). This deliberate and disciplined configuration of the curricular dimensions strives to develop an “ideal” curriculum, which optimizes engagement with learning to ensure intellectual accessibility, promotes learning achievement through effective instructional processes, and enhances the learning performance of the learner by capitalizing on the drivers and constraints to learning generated by the structure of the learning environment. Collectively, these strategies seek to align the psychophysics of the human learning process with the structure and intended learning of each discipline.

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