Higher education

Curriculum level

Teachers, students and management in the field of higher education have different ideas about the concept Curriculum. Fraser and Bosanquet (2006) summarize the different meanings in four categories of description:

  1. The curriculum is the structure and the content of a course: Teacher provides the outline of the course which defines the necessary learning. Student learns according to course outline
  2. The curriculum is the structure and content of a program of study: Teachers develop their course within the program framework. Student learns to achieve the graduate outcomes.
  3. The curriculum is the students’ experience of learning: Teacher provides framework for learning within the discipline and responds to students’ needs and specific interests. Student engages with the knowledge of the discipline.
  4. The curriculum is a dynamic and interactive process of teaching and learning: Here, the structure of the learning experience is not predetermined or defined; rather, it emerges from the needs of the students and the interactions between students, teachers and colleagues: ‘The curriculum is very dynamic and very changeable … It has to be modified as needed to fit the circumstances, so it is … a living thing’.

Focus on learning processes
Focus in higher education is increasingly focused on the importance of meaningful learning processes. This is based on the ideas identified in the learning theories Constructivism, Cognitive learning theory and Social constructivism.  A curriculum is these learning theories is defined more broadly than ”the syllabi and learning books” as in the descriptions 1 and 2.
The fourth description is possible but is considered in most institutes to be too open en flexible.

The third description for a curriculum is more en more applied in the literature about modern higher education. (Seel and Dijkstra, 2004; Verloop and Lowyck, 2003; Berkvens and Van den Akker, 2013; Diamond, 1998; Valcke, 2007; Beetham, 2012; Ornstein, 2014 and O’Niell, 2015). In t his literature a curriculum is considered to be a plan to realize the necessary meaningful learning process(ses) in the series of courses. The teacher’s team has to find possibilities to stimulate the students to spend enough time or more in their study.

Framework for a curriculum
When designing and developing of a curriculum decisions have to be made about the content, the aims, education methods, assessment, other options for student support, etcetra. The results will be described in the Curriculums' Framework. The necessary elements of a Framwork will depend on the context in which the curicculum will be used. In the article A detailed elaboration of the framework for a modern curriculum possible elements of a curriculum will be described.

Research based evidences
In the designing and the development of the framework and the learning processes of the curriculum decisions have to be made about the format and the content. Standard answers are not available. Which decisions should be made will depend on the situation and the vision on learning and education of the teacher’ team and the educational institute. (Dearn, 2010). A number of research-based evidences that are relevant in making decisions about the organization of a curriculum in higher education are presented in

Curriculum and course design and development
The process of curriculum development of the framework and the learning processes can be found. Diamond (1998), O’Neill (2015), Valcke (2007), Beetham (2012) Ornstein (2014) have described the process of design and development of a curriculum in detail.

In a separate post the definition of a course and course development is discussed (to be prepared). There is considerable overlap between the evidences for curriculum and for courses. Main difference is that in a curriculum the teachers’ team design and develop a plan. In a course the teacher has to design a concrete and detailed learning environment about a special subject for a certain group of students.


  1. Beetham. H. (2012) institutional approaches to curriculum design. Final synthesis report. JISC
  2. Berkvens, J. and Akker, J. van den (2013) Indicators for curriculum quality assurance Conceptual paper in curricular quality for ECER 2013 conference, Istanbul.
  3. Dearn, J.M. (2010) Innovation in Teaching and Curriculum Design.  International Encyclopedia of Education. Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL). Available online 14 May 2010.
  4. Diamons, R.M. (1998) Designing and assessing courses and curricula. A practical guide.Ssecond edition. Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco
  5. Fraser,S.P. and Bosanquet, A.M. The curriculum? That‘s just a unit outline, isn’t it? Studies in Higher Education Vol. 31, No.3, June 2006, pp 269-284.
  6. O’Neill, G. (2015). Curriculum Design in Higher Education: Theory to Practice, Dublin: UCD Teaching & Learning. ISBN 9781905254989 http://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/UCDTLP0068.pdf . Also available from UCD Research repository at: http://researchrepository.ucd.ie/handle/10197/7137
  7. Ornstein, A.C. (2014) Curriculum: foundations, principles, and users. ISBN: 1-292-02194-2
  8. Seel, N.M and Dijkstra, S. (2004). Curriculum, plans, and processes in instructional design. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers: London. Page 149.
  9. Valcke, M (2007) Onderwijskunde als ontwerpwetenschap : een inleiding voor ontwikkelaars van instructie en voor toekomstige leerkrachten. Gent : Academia Press.
  10. Verloop, N. en Lowyyck, J. (2003) Onderwijskunde Wolters Noordhoff.