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The Learner-Centered Curriculum Approach

The Learner-Centered Curriculum provides a framework for the identification, design, development, deployment, and evaluation of curriculum. It frames curriculum in the broadest strategic context then guides academic leaders and curriculum designers in drilling down to the most discrete curricular component. The comprehensive nature of the framework makes it ideal for sustaining design integrity across multiple curricular elements. Design integrity helps maintain cohesive strategies within the curriculum processes. The seven interlocking components ensure that curriculum fulfills institutional and fiduciary missions, they include: (1) the deep understanding of the populations to be served; (2) knowledge of the objectives they seek; (3) an evaluation of learning provider models available to them; (4) a comprehensive integration of learning theory, methods and principles appropriate to successful learning; (5) a strategic reconceptualization of the overall curriculum architecture providing a full scope of programs and approaches; (6) a synthesis of specific curriculum configurations designed to meet specific learner’s needs; and finally (7) the design, development and deployment of the array of services required by learners to meet their objectives. Two views of the Learner-Centered Curriculum Approach follow. The first is the Simple Round Diagram and the second details the full approach in seven columns.

The Learner-Centered Curriculum Approach
Simple Round Diagram v2003.5

Click here to download a PDF version of this diagram.

The Learner-Centered Curriculum Approach forms the core of the Curriculum-Centered Strategic Planning Model and methodology. Together they form the core of the online strategic planning system called ePlanedu. The Learner-Centered Curriculum approach has proven to be a powerful tool to help address the challenges faced in meeting learner needs.

As a framework the Learner Centered Curriculum Framework provides a systematic way of focusing the curriculum development process in seven essential and interlocking areas. The diagram on the opposite side sets forth seven columns moving the process from left to right systematically through components one through seven. Each component frames the response to a specific set of questions regarding the curriculum and its design.

The Learner-Centered Curriculum Approach
Overview v2003.2

Click here to download a PDF version of this diagram.

Learner Populations

  • The very first set of questions encountered in the model revolves around the learner themselves. Who are the learners of the 21st century? Whom does the institution now serve? Who could or should the institution be serving? Understanding who the learners are is an essential and often overlooked component of shaping curriculum for a changing society.
  • The foundation of the Learner-Centered Curriculum approach is to fully understand learning demand as segmented by population characteristic and identify gaps between those present in society and those an institution now serves.
  • The approach becomes more useful if an open discourse occurs regarding the learner populations found in target market areas and society at large.
  • To fully understand, one must describe learner population characteristics including preferred venues, constraints, and learning preferences. It is also important to determine the size of the learner population segments.
  • For example, we know that of the 461,937 population of Sedgwick County, Kansas (2002 US Census estimates) there are an estimated 159,368 adult learners. One can determine these populations for all states, their counties and even census track units to provide a consistent view of learner numbers.

Learner Objectives

  • The second set of questions encountered in the model revolves around the objectives of the learner populations identified in the first component. What do the learners of the 21st century seek? What are their objectives? How do objectives change in the course of person’s life? This is a most fundamental component of the overall structure and intent of an institution’s curriculum. Understanding learners’ objectives are an important element for motivation and sequencing of learning events.
  • Learners seek a vast array of learning objectives.
  • Understanding the array of learning objectives will enable an alignment between learner populations and their various learning objectives early in the program and curriculum review, design, and development processes. It is essential to develop effective marketing, recruitment, and even retention programs.
  • This alignment is a most fundamental component of the overall structure and intent of an institution’s curriculum and programs. Understanding learners’ objectives are also an important element for motivation and sequencing of learning events as well as a marketing and recruitment foundation.
  • The point here is not to be “everything to everybody” but to be fully informed as to the variety, type and characteristics of the objectives learners seek so that various programs can be aligned with the learning populations needs.
  • To further our example: Of the estimated 461,937 population of Sedgwick County, Kansas we estimate that 72,409 participate in work related learning, 68,944 participate in learning for personal development, 21,134 seek credentials, while 4,157 seek basic skills.

Learning Provider Models

  • The third set of questions in the model revolves around the models and various providers a 21st century learner has access to. What options are open to 21st century learners as they seek their objectives? What are the various curricular models, business models and assessment models in play? The 21st century is the age where learning opportunity will come to the learner. Leaning will occur wherever learners have need. A complex network of learning resources is already emerging and we must begin to embrace the concept of learning systems to meet the demand for learning across multiple venues. Faculty, Curriculum Leaders, Strategic Planners and Curriculum Designers must fully explore, describe and understand these various models in order to adequately assess the emerging learning landscape. Such an assessment enables the understanding of the competitive environment for enrollments and emerging best practices that develop as the models mature and reveal their strengths, weaknesses, values and deficiencies.
  • There exist in the learning marketplace a wide variety of learner provider models and competitors in the learning marketplace.
  • They include traditional models, cohort models, open learning models, mini-term models, online models, and a host of others.
  • Each model holds particular value for a specific learner population and the objectives they seek.
  • Examining the models already available and linking them to the populations for whom they have value builds deep insight into the learner-centered approach.
  • To continue our example: Of the estimated 461,937 population of Sedgwick County, Kansas, we can further estimate that 43,156 will receive their learning from commercial providers; 14,771 from postsecondary institutions; 8,037 from trade organizations; 4,779 from private commercial or church related sources and finally 3,144 from elementary and secondary institutions.
  • The point here is to fully understand the choice 21st century learners have in meeting their learning objectives. Because the context has been set in the first and second components an examination of the models available begins to paint a cohesive picture of learner options in a 21st century learning marketplace. Decisions regarding what individual institutions 21st century curriculum will look like will emerge from the synthesis of populations, objectives and models present across society.

Learning Theories and Methods

  • The fourth set of questions revolves around the learning process. What learning theories are appropriate for the learners we serve and the objectives they seek? What learning methods help inform us of the appropriate curricular approach to take with specific learner populations? How do we focus the curriculum on the individual learner? The learning process becomes extremely important in the Learner-Centered Curriculum. An illustrative list appears in the full Learner-Centered Curriculum Diagram. It is not intended to be definitive. The Learner-Centered Curriculum builds upon effective curriculum design, delivery, and deployment methods.
  • The American Psychological Association developed a 14 point learner-centered framework that provides an effective baseline in design.
  • There are more than 50 major learning theories, each focused on a different aspect of learning or learner population.
  • There is an inexorable link between learning theory and teaching/learning methodologies deployed in the classroom or online.
  • Synthesizing effective curriculum requires the matching of theory and practice to learner population characteristics and objectives.
  • For example in a study by R. Maki titled: Course: I. Learning and Satisfaction in on-line versus Lecture Courses. Published in Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers (Vol. 32, pp. 230-39) “Increased content knowledge was greater for students in web sections, as was in-class examinations performance. Use of the WWW and use of computers for academic purposes increased more in the online sections, and on-line students showed a greater decrease in computer anxiety. Students in the on-line sections expressed appreciation for course components and the convenience of the source, but lecture sections received higher ratings on course evaluations than on-line sections." ["We find better performance on examinations in the web-based course, more learning as measured by content questions in a quasi-experimental design, but lower satisfaction. We have now replicated this effect using the same design during a second year. I believe that the better performance is due to our forcing students in the on-line sections to interact with course material and not due to any inherent advantage of the web-based format." - R. Maki]
  • The point here is to systematically build the curriculum to incorporate effective learning methods.

Learner-Centered Curriculum Architecture

  • What does Curriculum Architecture mean? The architecture of a curriculum describes the style, method of design, basic construction, key components and underlying philosophies used to build the modules, courses, and programs that make up a curriculum. Across an institution’s entire curriculum, many different approaches are represented.
  • The overall architecture of the curriculum is a significant asset and should be considered in the overall plan.
  • An institution’s curriculum architecture details all of the specific models used to design, develop, deliver, assess, warrant, and market the curriculum.
  • The curriculum architecture can also be used to synthesize an institution’s comprehensive academic master plan.
  • The architecture of a curriculum describes the style, method of design, basic construction, key components, and underlying philosophies used to build the modules, courses, and programs that make up the entire diverse curricula.

Learner-Centered Curriculum Configuration

  • A particular curriculum configuration is drawn from the overall architectural options of the institution.
  • The configuration is where all of the components of the model are used to construct a specific curriculum for a specific population seeking specific objectives using specific teaching, learning, and assessment methods.
  • A particular curriculum configuration is drawn from the overall architectural options of the institution. As design, development, and deployment of new programs occurs we will want to enhance the process through what we learn in this engagement.
  • Configuring curriculum also involves the deployment aspect meaning scheduling, pricing, locating, etc.
  • Across an institution, a wide variety of curriculum configurations are deployed.

Learner-Centered Support Services

  • Services are as important in the learner-centered curriculum as design. Advising, counseling, and assessment are among the most important processes that must be integrated into the curriculum. Too often they are add-ons and not built into the curriculum model.
  • The curriculum alone is not sufficient to deliver effective and efficient learning. Services are also required to enable the learner to successfully engage and complete the learning process or processes.
  • For example, assessment, advising, counseling, financial aid, and a host of other services are extremely important to the process of creating learner success.
  • Appropriate services must be integrated (fused) with the curriculum design, development, and deployment processes.
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