Criteria for Effective Curriculum Design: setting the measures for use with benchmark, maturity and baseline models

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OULDI project
31 August 2011

Work in progress - we would really value your thoughts...:-)

We are looking to help facilitate the creation a set of criteria for effective curriculum design.

Go straight to discussion

Over the last year or two many have voiced a need for a better definition of what a ‘good’, ‘effective’, ‘useful’ or ‘right’ curriculum and learning design is. We believe the first hurdle is to create as complete a set of criteria as possible. These criteria could then be used for a variety of purposes such as benchmarking, maturity review, base lining and quality enhancement purposes (just as similar initiatives for benchmarking e-learning, open educational resources or assessment are beginning to do). 

What we would like from you are statements that in your experience

  1. define good, desirable, even ideal learning design processes or practices and 
  2. are expressed in such a way as to be measurable or evaluable.

As we are talking about a whole gambit of formal and informal systems, it may help to think in turn about both the processes or practices associated with the following activities:

  • Course Design facilitation
  • Staff Training and Support
  • Quality assurance of final product/service
  • Management control and strategy
  • Communication of guidelines and support
  • Stakeholder engagement and involvement
  • Financial management
  • Risk and innovation management
  • Standards, guidelines and responsibilities
  • Management of resources
  • Monitoring, measurement and evaluation of processes

This list is not definitive but intended to spark your thoughts. Please add to as many suggestions as possible in the comments below (or on our Google Docs sheet) and, at least every couple of weeks throughout the Autumn, we will be producing an updated compilation for people to review. Your suggestions could be something quite broad, or something quite specific, however do make sure each is phrased as single sentence statement (although feel free to add an explanation afterwards if you’d like). Likewise, if you know of existing criteria that could be useful do let us know the URL.

Thank you for your contribution!

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Rebecca Galley
1:54pm 5 September 2011


The text above places emphasis on 'good' design process rather than 'good' design product which really makes sense to me, and I don't think there are any sets of measures that do this (happy to stand corrected!) With regard to 'good' design (product) there are several quality benchmarks ie AUTC quality tool (see e.g. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/auckland02/proceedings/papers/164.pdf), and work has been done towards a European eLearning Quality Mark.

So...my statement (for now...it might change!) is:

"A process which able to respond to context, and effectively use the expertise and knowledge of all design stakeholders"

And I guess measures would be i.e.:

  1. Is the process coherent and 'owned' (i.e. is someone responsible for managing continual process improvement/ acting as a champion, guardian, gatekeeper etc)
  2. Does the process include a review of the 'design space'/ context (student profile, staff skill, budget, employer need, institutional priority, course level etc etc)?
  3. Does the process effectively consult all stakeholders at points throughout the design process (from business case to evaluation and review)?
  4. Is the process collaborative?
  5. Is the process informed by best practice/ is effective use made of expertise?

I'd value any thoughts :-)

Helen Walmsley-Smith
2:34pm 20 October 2011 (Edited 8:11am 21 October 2011)


Hi Rebecca, I've just been looking again at a couple of projects that might be useful in terms of a learning design for designing learning and thinking about your criteria:

The Viewpoints project from the University of Ulster includes a process for developing a learning design that uses the following design:

  • Participants meet in group to discuss and agree 'challenge' that is to be addressed in the curriculum
  • The group collaboratively creates  a high-level design using a series of 'cards' with principles for design of good assessment, activity design or information skills.
  • Facilitators support the conversion of this design to a workable/implementable design.

The Carpe Deim workshops at Leicester University use the following structure for the 2 day workshops:

1. Write a blueprint: Here you work together to lay out the essential aspects of your course. (This includes a discussion about vision and challenges for the course) 

2. Make a storyboard: Here you draw out the process of your course as a ‘storyboard’. (This includes mapping out OER resources that may be useful)

3. Build your prototype online: After designing on paper, now you try out your design online.

4. Check reality: Your designs are tried out by your reality checker, to see how they work.

5. Review and adjust: Building on the feedback from the reality checker, you review the work so far, make adjustments, refine timings, flag up places to return to, indicate what additional work is needed and who should be responsible for it.

6. Planning your next steps: Now the team is ready to build an action plan together.

The elements of these that I would say are essential in effective curriculum design are:

  • include a discussion about vision or challenges at the beginning of the process
  • team-based collaborations
  • the use of existing principles to guide practitioners and spark discussions and reflection

Other elements that could be part of the criteria from my own work:

  • Present relevant case studies of successful courses
  • Use data (recruitment, retention and attainment) of existing modules/courses/awards to inform the thinking about vision and challenge and to evaluate the final implementation of the design
  • Use TPACK to aid self-assessment of teachers technological, pedagogical and content knowledge to aid pre-design training and development and to plan on-going development work.

Rebecca Galley
9:48am 21 October 2011


Hi Helen,

It's interesting how clearly collaboration has come through across the projects, and I think this in inself offers challenges to institutions. Firstly, how can collaborative discourse and activities (like the ViewPoints activities) be effectively captured so that enough of the richness and scope of those discussions can be used in later design, approval and delivery phases? It is not enough to have a rich and engaging and creative design discussion and then for staff to go away and complete the same old forms in the same old way because they don't quite ask the right questions (and the questions might need to be different each time). Secondly, in order to engage effectively in collaborative design discourse, participants need to have the expert language, knowledge and skills of collaboration, pedagogy and technology or, have expert facilitation (and both Viewpoints and Carpe Deim use the expert facilitator model). This has implications for staff development and support e.g how sustainable is the expert facilitator model?

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