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For students to learn effectively, it is vital for teachers to plan and design their courses well. Consequently, this issue of CDTL Brief looks at ways to promote successful Curriculum Design.

December 2001, Vol. 4 No. 6 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Curriculum Design & Implementation: The Basics
Associate Professor Rethy K. Chhem
Department of Diagnostic Radiology
Associate Professor Khoo Hoon Eng
Department of Biochemistry
In view of the abundant literature on the subject, this article aims to highlight important points and issues in curriculum design for lecturers with no previous training in education.

For most of us without a background in education, a curriculum often means a sequence of lectures, teaching timetables, examination sessions and grading. Occasionally, a curriculum can also turn into a turf battle with different departments vying for increased teaching hours for their particular discipline.

But a curriculum is more than just sequences of lectures and timetables. According to Kern, et al. (1998), a curriculum is “a planned educational experience”. Hence, the main intention of curriculum design at the tertiary level is to foster the academic development of students. Once a specific group of students is identified for whom the curriculum is to be designed, the purpose for the curriculum design can then be made clear from the outset. To carry out curriculum design and implementation successfully and to prevent conflicts of interests, it is also vital that a coordinator is appointed and full institutional support be made available.

If a curriculum is to be “a planned educational experience”, then curriculum design and implementation should follow a sequence of steps that operates like an upward and downward spiral with a robust feedback system for the adjustment of each step. Curriculum planning can be divided into 6 steps:

1. Identification of the Faculty/institution’s mission and the needs of its stakeholders

This is the crucial first step as it is important to understand the mission of the Faculty for which the curriculum is designed. For example, the mission of a Faculty of Medicine is to train doctors to deliver health care services to society. Consequently, curriculum developers must know and understand the needs of curriculum stakeholders (i.e. students, faculty members, university administrators, professional bodies, government, etc.) that will determine the type of graduate profile the Faculty wants:

  • possesses a sound scientific basis to practise Medicine;
  • possesses high clinical competence;
  • possesses critical analytical skills;
  • is capable of self-directed & life-long learning;
  • possesses good communication skills;
  • is compassionate and ethical.

2. Needs assessment of the learners

This step is often neglected. Once the potential students are identified, their needs must be assessed, because curriculum developers must be aware of the learners’ strengths and weaknesses. Therefore data on student characteristics are needed (e.g. entry level of competence, ability to meet the prerequisites of the programme, individual goals and priorities, personal background and reasons for enrolling, attitudes about discipline and assumptions about the programme).

3. Establishment of the curriculum’s goals and objectives

This is an important step as goals and objectives determine the instructional philosophy and thus guide the selection of the most effective learning methods. Moreover, the learning objectives will also determine the design and selection of assessment instruments and procedures. As clear and well-written objectives are absolutely necessary to define the focus of the curriculum, faculty members in charge of curriculum design must be formally trained in writing instructional objectives.

4. Selection of educational strategies

The selection of educational strategies must be based on three main principles. First, the educational methods must be congruent with the learning objectives. Second, the use of multiple educational methods is preferable to a singular method, as the curriculum should respond to the challenges of the multitude of students’ learning styles and varied educational objectives. Finally, the curriculum designer and implementer must verify the curriculum’s feasibility in terms of material and human resources.

5. Implementation of the new curriculum

Designing the curriculum is the most exciting and creative part of curriculum development. However, the ultimate goal is not to design the best and ideal curriculum, but to put it into practice successfully. The many conditions and requirements for successful execution include the promotion of faculty members’ ownership of the process of curriculum implementation and the allocation of adequate resources. Unequivocal support from the highest academic authority must be secured before starting to put a new curriculum into operation. Following the first phase of implementation of the new programme, a formal assessment must be carried out in order to adjust the process and to establish a link between institutional goals, courses and curriculum.

6. Evaluation and feedback to improve the curriculum

Although evaluation of the curriculum is the last step in this practical approach, it is not necessarily the final action. The evaluation data collected must serve as criteria for adjusting the curriculum to the goals of the programme or the mission of the Faculty. The most important message here is that a curriculum must be evaluated, corrected and go through repeated levels of innovation because it is not a static system. Feedback from teachers, tutors and students must continuously be taken into serious consideration so as to enhance the learning outcomes for the students.

In conclusion, a curriculum is an academic plan. It is a total blueprint for actions where:

a. the objectives, aims and outcome of the curriculum are clarified;

b. the processes to achieve these are identified;

c. the ways to measure whether success has been achieved; and

d. systematic review and adjustment are also part of the plan.


Kern, D.E.; Thomas, P.A.; Howard, D.M. & Bass, E.B. (1998). Curriculum Development for Medical Education. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

Diamond, R.M. (1998). Designing and Assessing Courses and Curricula. San Francisco: Josey-Bass Publishers.

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Inside this issue
Designing & Planning a Successful Course: Bridging the Gap between Common Practice & Best Practice
Curriculum Design & Implementation: The Basics
Practical Steps in Designing a Curriculum to Promote Critical & Creative Thinking