Key elements within the curriculum and the relationships between them are shown in diagram 1 below.

Staff and students are at the heart of curriculum. The relationships between them are shaped by the answers to key questions about

  • assessment,
  • content,
  • learning interactions and
  • the connections between those elements.

In the diagram the top question in each pair is a design question for staff. The lower set of questions is commonly asked by students to shape their approach to learning. Curriculum design should help ensure alignment between the answers staff build into their design and those that students find through their experience of the curriculum.

Key elements and relationships in the curriculum
Key elements and relationships in the curriculum

These elements and relationships of course are all context bound. In current systemic approaches to curriculum design, a major element of the educational context is the intended learning outcomes for students of a topic or course.

Intended learning outcomes  frame and influence the detail and alignment of assessment, learning interactions and content (Biggs, 1999). Intended learning outcomes describe the characteristics that a student should be able show on successful completion of a course or topic. Assessment  gauges the extent of students' achievement of the intended outcomes, learning interactions and content should help to build towards students' achievement of those outcomes.

Alignment in the curriculum: outcomes influence internal elements – elements align towards students achieving outcomes
Alignment in the curriculum: outcomes influence internal elements – elements align towards students achieving outcomes

Intended learning outcomes are formed under the influences of:

  • university policy and regulations,
  • the interests of the particular academic discipline,
  • our understanding of the characteristics of students entering the course of topics,
  • the expectations of society, professions and potential employers, and educational theory and good practices.

Some key University policy considerations that must be accommodated in curriculum design are:

The translation, contextualization and accommodation of these influences in the curriculum is captured in the course or topic aim statement and the long description that appears in the course information book and on the University website.

Translating environmental influences into design via aim statements
Translating environmental influences into design via aim statements

The topic/course aim and description should express the essential characteristics of the intended learning experience and its purpose.