Linda Suskie

  A Common Sense Approach to Assessment & Accreditation


What are the characteristics of effective curricula?

Posted on January 6, 2017 at 8:20 PM

I'm working on a book chapter on curriculum design, and I've come up with eight characteristics of effective curricula, whether for a course, program, general education, or co-curricular experience:

• They treat a learning goal as a promise.

• They are responsive to the needs of students, employers, and society.

• They are greater than the sum of their parts.

• They give students ample and diverse opportunities to achieve key learning goals.

• They have appropriate, progressive rigor.

• They conclude with an integrative, synthesizing capstone experience.

• They are focused and simple.

• They use research-informed strategies to help students learn and succeed, including high-impact practices.


What do you think? Do these make sense? Have I missed anything? the curricula you work with have these characteristics?

Categories: Practical Tips, Clearing the Fog

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Reply Stephen Ehrmann
8:58 AM on January 27, 2017 
Hi Linda,
This is a worthy challenge and I found your list a helpful summary. I do have a few suggestions/questions.
Your first point "learning goals as a promise" raises the question of whether the students play any role in making curricula effective. (By that I mean what they do with the opportunities offered.) Are students objects or agents? So, in your first item, who's promising what to whom? The same question applies to every "they" in your list.
Some items in the list seem inappropriate for co-curricular experiences. (They are focused and simple? they end with a capstone?)
Finally, "they are more than the sum of their parts" seems equally applicable to ineffective curricula.
If you'd like to talk more about this, please get in touch.
All the best,
Reply Fiona Chrystall
3:59 PM on January 13, 2017 
Excellent thoughts have already been shared and I have nothing of import to add to what has gone before. However, I note with interest that this appears to be a female only discussion....what does this tell us?
Reply Linda Suskie
6:38 AM on January 11, 2017 
Great comments, all! Thanks for suggesting better vocabulary. Obviously in the book chapter I explain each of these, but I want the heading to be clear.

After I posted this, I added a ninth trait: Effective curricula are consistent. I'm thinking of (appropriate) consistency among sections of a course and across venues (campuses, online vs face-to-face, etc.)
Reply Paula Haines
4:57 PM on January 10, 2017 
Agreed with Debbie's comment on reciprocity for transfer, and with Jane's point about spelling out the notion of "progressive" in terms of intentional mapping of outcomes and experiences. I'm assuming the project will delve into how designers might define--and meet-- "the needs of students, employers, and society." And this might be something you intend to address with respect to "simplicity," but I am always pained by curricula that are too FULL-- where students have too little choice in (or responsibility for) directing their learning or following their interests, both within the discipline and outside.
Reply Mary Herrington-Perry
2:07 PM on January 10, 2017 
Spot on!

I would elaborate on the first bullet point: Good curricula begin with the end in mind. That "end" is what students need to know and be able to do, not what we might wish to teach!
Reply Debbie Kell
3:38 PM on January 9, 2017 
It occurs to me that it would be valuable to speak somehow to "alignment." Do course-level goals align with program-level goals? With General Education Goals, where appropriate? With Institutional-Level Goals? With transfer institutions? This is much easier to do when developing a curriculum from the ground up than it is to fix AFTER a curriculum is developed. There is also a category of courses that I consider to be "service courses" in that they not only serve a need within their program, but across many programs. For example, a public speaking course may meet the goals of the Communications Program, but is it also meeting the goals of business, science, allied health, etc? Sometimes it takes a specially-crafted assessment initiative to see how well such a service course meets the needs of programs across disciplines. Can a rubric be developed that can be shared, at least in part(s), across disciplines? If alignment has been well thought-out, the answer is more usually "yes."
Reply Jane Marie Souza
8:26 AM on January 9, 2017 
Great list! I realize that "progressive rigor" suggests scaffolding of skills. However, I have found that I often have to spell that out pretty clearly. I would suggest that emphasizing that curricula need to build skills, not simply teach them, may be helpful.
Reply Maria
7:42 PM on January 8, 2017 
Includes or gives consideration to relevant assessment approaches at key points to inform student learning. Too often assessment is an after thought in the development of new curricula, rather than part of the process.
Reply lynn
1:55 PM on January 8, 2017 
perhaps being explicit about evaluation and the importance of validity