What is Curriculum?

I’ve taken a number of course in my bachelors and masters programs that focus on designing curriculum, but what struck me is the inconsistency definition of curriculum. I’ve heard some college educators define curriculum as their lesson plans. One of my university professors described curriculum as the process of putting together learning outcomes, which is supported by lecture material, readings, and assignments.

These definitions are correct, but they do not capture the essence of what I believe curriculum is, which is the input (process), output (interactions with students) and the objectives (learner success).

The confusion about what curriculum is may be based on different purposes of a course or program. For example, an introductory course may be knowledge based and therefore subject centred. Looking at pedagogical theories, the professor may employ humanistic or behavioural design. Some teachers have told me they teach using problem-based or project-based learning. The popular TRIBES teaching/learning method focuses on cooperative learning lesson plans. All these are examples of teaching practices, but not curriculum design.

Parker and Quinsee (2012) provides the following definition: “Curriculum relates to all aspects of the student experience during the program both within the institution and beyond which enables them to engage in their learning and achieve their potential” (p. 51).

If Parker and Quinsee’s definition is correct, then we must ask ourselves if, as higher education professionals, are we placing too much focus on the teaching methods and not on the ultimate goal of higher education? Clearly Park and Quinesee believe that professors must provide students not only with subject knowledge, but also the tools to continue to grow in their chosen field and become a life-long leaner.

This vision of curriculum goes beyond lesson plans, teaching styles, and assessment. It provides us with a focus beyond the lesson plans, the learning objectives, the goals of the program, and the philosophy of the university. If we embrace this definition of curriculum and the purpose of curriculum design, then our interactions with students will move beyond the transfer of subject knowledge and introduce them to tools that they can use throughout their lives

Curriculum is not merely 12 weeks worth of lesson plans, a syllabus, and a series of assessment. Curriculum is about the learners’ experience beyond the walls of the institution. Is your curriculum helping to create innovators, life-long learners, and students who want to embrace their potential in the decades to come?


Parker, P. & Quinsee, S. (2012). Facilitating institutional curriculum change in

higher education. The International Journal of Learning, 18(5). 49-60.

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