Tip #482: Which Curriculum Design Principles Would You Choose?

“Look for your choices, pick the best one, then go with it.” Pat Riley

You have only 50 minutes to help lecturers and tutors in Zambian private medical training institutions become aware of basic curriculum design principles. So, what principles are most critical for them to know?

That was my dilemma this weekend as I prepared for a workshop in Lusaka, Zambia on September 2.

These are the ten curriculum design principles I chose, and my rationale for those choices.

(Note: Although the principle that training is not always the answer is an important one, I did not include it because this target audience does not conduct training needs assessments. The Zambian General Nursing Council requires that specific content be taught.)

1.    Learning objectives must be specific, observable, and measurable.

[Because the objectives identify what the students will learn, the objectives need to be measurable to determine if the desired learning has occurred.]

2.    Learning objectives identify what the student will do during the learning session.

[Training is about the student, not about the instructor. The student needs to accomplish the learning objectives in order to demonstrate learning.]

3.    The first three building blocks of learning include knowledge, comprehension and application.           

[Knowledge of Bloom’s Taxonomy (called the building blocks of learning to make it sound less daunting) is essential in the design of learning objectives and the selection of learning activities].

4.    The key consideration in selecting a learning activity is the desired learning level.

[A large amount of information and/or a short amount of time have been the traditional reasons for selecting lecture. Since lecture can only achieve knowledge, it is important to know that different participatory learning activities, such as a case study, questionnaire, etc. can be tailored to meet the circumstances.]

5.    Lecture can only achieve knowledge, the lowest level of learning.

[Lecture is one of the most limited learning activities. The instructor has no way of determining if learning has occurred unless a comprehension-checking activity is used, such as Q & A, a short quiz, a case study with questions, etc.]

6.    Use a variety of learning activities to meet the needs of different learning styles and to engage the students.

[People learn differently and most participatory learning activities can be augmented to meet most of their needs.]

7.     When teaching something new that has no meaning to the students, teach only 2-3 items at a time.

[Brain studies have found that when students have no familiarity with the content, their working memory can only absorb 2-3 new items at a time. If the instructor can make the new learning meaningful by relating it to something the students already know, then 4-5 items can be taught at a time. This does not mean that only 2-3 or 4-5 items can be taught during an entire class day. What it means is that long lists of steps, long lists of terminology, should be broken into bite-size pieces and worked with until it is clear the students understand the items.

8.    It helps to give at least 3 examples to illustrate a point.

[Brain studies have found that people need three examples to really understand. If only one example is given, the students will wait for the exact same circumstance to occur. The instructor does not need to provide all three examples, if the students can offer some.]

9.    A useful rule of thumb is a maximum of 10 minutes of unbroken lecture.

[Our brains have been programmed by television, which puts in commercials after 10 minutes of viewing time. To “break” a lecture means to stop and involve the students in some way: ask a question, show a visual, assign a task, etc.]

10.  There are two key training rules: dignify the student and set the student up for success.

[Instructors can do this by respecting the students’ knowledge, having clear goals, specific, observable, measurable learning objectives, learning activities that achieve the desired level of learning, a variety of learning activities to meet different learning style needs, and by teaching only a little at a time.]

Those were my choices. I would be very interested in hearing what curriculum design principles you would have chosen. I have a terrible feeling that I’m unconsciously competent and so have omitted critical principles that are so obvious to me that I don’t even think about them any more.

May your learning be sweet.


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