Curriculum Mapping - Giving Direction to Learning

One of my favorite features on my iPhone is the Maps App. I lost my beloved DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer several moves (and states) ago. I don’t have a GPS in my car. I’ve often found myself lost in many an unfamiliar part of a town when traveling for work or even pleasure. There is something very comforting in saying, “Siri, where is the nearest gas station?”

In program development and course development, curriculum maps serve a purpose similar to geographic road maps: They help give direction.

“Curriculum mapping is the process of indexing or diagramming a curriculum to identify and address academic gaps, redundancies, and misalignments for purposes of improving the overall coherence of a course of study and, by extension, its effectiveness (a curriculum, in the sense that the term is typically used by educators, encompasses everything that teachers teach to students in a school or course, including the instructional materials and techniques they use).” (Abbot, 2013)

In short, completed curriculum maps list core learning outcomes for a program, identify which courses teach specific skills and knowledge expressed in the outcomes, and show how the skills and knowledge are taught. Some maps show the big picture (think of a huge wall atlas) while others show granular details (think of a neighborhood street map). While the size and details involved in creating a curriculum map may vary, the process is very much the same regardless of depth.

Curriculum mapping is a collaborative process. The people involved are “curriculum cartographers” if you will. The curriculum cartographers are stakeholders in a program who work together to determine the desired learning outcomes and identify the courses that are to be mapped. These cartographers typically include program leaders, faculty, subject matter experts, and instructional designers.

The map begins with a grid or otherwise organized matrix that is populated with the learning outcomes. The curriculum cartographers explore courses looking for the identified outcomes and code their findings on the grid. They note if an outcome is introduced to students in a course, if an outcome is practiced and reinforced, and/or if a student demonstrates mastery of the outcome in a course.

Once a curriculum map is complete, it is time to analyze the findings. Questions that are asked may include:

  • Are the outcomes all addressed? Are there gaps? Overlaps?
  • Which courses address which outcomes, standards and skills?
  • What is the relationship between learning outcomes and student activities?
  • Do students have an opportunity to practice outcomes before they have to demonstrate mastery?
  • Where are key assignments located and what do the assignments assess?
  • Are the instructional practices to achieve the outcomes forward-engaging and forward-thinking or are the approaches dated?

A curriculum map serves many purposes. For a program, a map is visual reassurance that a program provides the depth and breadth of knowledge related to the degree students are pursuing. For instructors, it provides an overview of the purpose of each course within a program. For instructional designers and curriculum developers, maps provide directions for how student-centered learning might best take place.

As with geographic maps, curriculum maps help educators find their way. Course mapping leads to courses that are better at helping students meet outcomes. Content becomes more diversified, and assignments more varied, engaging both students and teachers with the aspects of the subject that are essential to success in each particular course.

To learn more about curriculum mapping, talk to one of UNE Online’s Instructional Designers. There are several curriculum mapping projects currently underway. Want to learn more on your own? Check out the references and resources provided.


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