July 2009 Index
Home Page

The Future of Curriculum

Donald G. Perrin

The June Editorial introduced the idea of a Divergent Curriculum. Many question its practicality. It is difficult to administer and there is no preexisting standards to compare results.

I previously challenged the relevance of standardized tests. Their thread of comparison belongs to a world that is rapidly disappearing. The so-called “objective testing” bubble has burst like the dot-com and stock-market bubbles, resulting in entirely new trends yet to be defined.

Standardized tests do not reflect the changing world in which we live. Whatever replaces traditional curriculum and standardized tests must be performance based. Outcomes must be defined in measurable and observable terms; knowledge and skills must be proactive to prepare learners for the world they enter on graduation. Curriculum must be redefined to anticipate change. Hence, it will forever be “under construction”. Much of what is relevant to the past and the present may not be relevant in the future.

The traditional convergent curriculum tends to limit student learning to what teachers, professors, curriculum experts, and test-makers know and understand. Our students live in a world of computers, cell phones and social networks and their future is not our future. They are eminently capable of solving their own technical problems and learning needs. They can generate programs for their personal growth just as students did in German universities many years ago. Under the German system, students travelled to learn under professors of their choice and returned to their home university for final exams and graduation. Technology now allows us to do this with global reach from our campus, workplace, or home. Learners can customize programs of study relevant to their worlds and their future. And eligible students on any campus can study with top professors in their field without the need to travel.

Today, distance learning technologies have been integrated into regular classroom instruction and distance learning courses qualify for regular credit. Many institutions accept distance learning courses from other universities as part of their regular program. The next breakthrough will be acceptance of entire programs from other institutions so that small and remote campuses can offer a full complement of courses and programs.

Tony Bates futuristic model “to improve cost effectiveness of the academy”, (1) also reported by Stephen Downes in OLDaily (2), presents additional options arranged here as ABCs:

§  Abolish the semester system

§  Build courses around learning outcomes, and
assess outcomes through ‘proof of learning'

§  Create university consortia to allow for automatic credit transfer

§  Design and deliver large undergraduate courses using teams,
 break large classes into groups of 20-30 students, and
train Ph.D. students in teaching and learning

§  Emphasize collaborative learning

§  Focus on getting students to do the work: find and organize materials and resources

The last point suggests that students could develop their own program of studies. Also, consortia may be an important first step to introduce programs from other institutions and enable small institutions to offer courses in disciplines they were not otherwise equipped to teach.

Vernon Anderson advocated a core curriculum of common learnings from which students could take divergent paths. Over the past century, programs have grown that the core curriculum has become almost the entire graduate program. The core should be small, powerful, and flexible to enable students to build effective programs responsive to their professional needs.

We need to involve our students. Many students know what they need for their professional development even better than we do. They have time for research, and intimate contact with the realities of their profession and their daily lives. Professors and advisors should encourage students to propose a program that is right for them and accept proposals that meet or exceed the academic standards of their discipline and their institution of higher learning.


1.      Tony Bates, http://www.tonybates.ca/2009/10/10/using-technology-to-improve-the-cost-effectiveness-of-the-academy-part-1/ October 10, 2009.

2.       Stephen Downes, OLDaily. October 14, 2009

3.      Vernon E. Anderson. Principles and procedures of curriculum improvement 2nd Edition, Ronald Press, 1965

go top
July 2009 Index
Home Page