What Do We Mean When We Say Curriculum?

I had the privilege to attend the Learning Outcomes and Experiential Learning Symposium at the end of last week in Toronto. One of the great focuses of the two days was terminologies and defining what we mean when it comes to experiential learning opportunities and work-integrated learning. This discussion is part of an overarching thread and trend in higher education- what do we mean when we say (insert any educationally related word here)? Let me give you some examples.

Example A:

What do we mean when we say rubrics?

Possible discussion between colleagues can sound like this:

“I don’t like the word rubrics, I prefer to use grade descriptors because it allows for more flexibility.”

“But grade descriptors are not the same as rubrics.”


Example B:

What do we mean when we say hybrid learning?

Possible discussion between colleagues can sound like this:

“Oh that’s when you have one week in-class and the next week is online.”

“Wait that’s not what we do at our school, at ours hybrid is when you have an extra hour online on top of the in-class work.”

“Oh wait, we call that blended at our school.”


You get the idea. So when you use a word like curriculum everyone has an idea of what it means conceptually but in practice it can be something very different for each educator or for each school. Some see curriculum as the content piece of a class so that could mean anything from LMS modules, to PowerPoints, to assignments, to rubrics. To others curriculum is the alignment piece, looking to make sure the learning outcomes for the activities and assignments align to the course learning outcomes which in turn align to the program learning outcomes. To still others the line is not so clear.

Going back to the importance of etymology mentioned in the previous post, curriculum was first used in an English context in 1824 to mean “a course, especially a fixed course of study at a college, university, or school” (“curriculum”). So in this sense, curriculum is actually another way of saying what we would understand now as program of study. The Latin root of the word relates to running (currere) so curriculum is something that both moves but is clearly identifiable, a pathway if you will.

Curriculum becomes this catch-all term sometimes when what we really need it to be is a precise description of what we are working on or how the concept impacts our roles. Like everything in education we need to be able to incorporate that flexibility of terminology in our day-to-day work environment. Today I have worked on learning objectives, rubrics, program of study templates, and program descriptions. All curriculum and all valuable in its own way to advancing and promoting academic enrichment as well as student and faculty success- so what does curriculum mean to you?


Work Cited

“Curriculum.” Online Etymology Dictionary. https://www.etymonline.com/word/curriculum


One thought on “What Do We Mean When We Say Curriculum?

  1. A very thoughtful discussion. I have worked over the course of 10 years at different higher education institutions and I am now feeling more comfortable with how I employ the concept/term “curriculum” in my daily work. Yet I can still appreciate its complexity. That you for an opportunity to reflect.


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