Tip #383: What is Magic About the Number Three in Curriculum Design?

“No one can remember more than three points.” Philip Crosby

It may seem surprising, but the number three plays a significant role in curriculum design in both theory and practice. Following the principles outlined in the eight triads below will significantly improve the likelihood that the training you design will effectively achieve the desired learning results.

a. Needs Assessment

Curriculum design begins with finding the answers to three key questions that will help determine whether training is the right solution to the identified problem:

1. Who is the target audience?

2. Why is there a need for this specific training?

3. What should the learners know or do differently when they leave the training?

Answers to these key curriculum design questions will ensure that the right:

1. People will be in the right training program;

2. Solution to the problem will be identified (which will avoid unnecessary training); and

3. Knowledge and skills will be developed.

b. Trainer Decisions

Trainers make three decisions before, during and after interaction with the
learner that will increase the probability that learning will occur. The UCLA Mastery Teaching Model states that, regardless of who or what is being taught, all training decisions fall into three categories:

1. Content [what content to teach next];

2. Learner Activities [what the learner will do to learn and to demonstrate that learning has occurred]; and

3. Trainer Activities [what the trainer will do to facilitate learning, through group facilitation and stand up presentation techniques].

Curriculum design addresses the first two categories. Classroom management addresses the last category.

c. Desired Level of Learning

It is essential to clearly identify the desired level of learning and mastery the participants should attain. Although B

    loom’s Taxonomy of Behavioral Objectives

includes six progressive building blocks of knowledge, achieving the first three levels will convert a training session from trainer-focused to learner-focused:

1. Level 1 is knowledge, where the instructor imparts information to the learners.

2. Level 2 is comprehension, where the learners both know and demonstrate their understanding of what has been taught.

3. Level 3 is application, where the learners know, understand and practice using what they have learned.

If the training goal is to build or strengthen specific skills, application must be the minimum desired learning level.

d. Learning Objectives

Learning objectives explain in specific, observable and measurable terms what the learner will do to (a) learn specific skills and (b) demonstrate that they have learned them. When we streamline the task analysis process, we make it easier to create learning objectives. This process has three phases:

1. Identify the key content.

2. Determine the appropriate level of learning for each learner action in the key content template.

3. Add a learning-level appropriate verb to each learner action identified in the key content template.

e. Learning Activity Selection

The decision regarding which learning activities to incorporate into a training program must satisfy the need to:

1. Select an activity that can effectively achieve the desired learning level;

2. Fit the learning into the specific time available, given the fact that different activities require different amounts of time; and

3. Use a variety of participatory activities to meet the needs of different learning styles as well as to keep the learners engaged.

f. Learning Styles

The most basic learning style model is based on the senses:

1. Visual learners who rely on sight, so they learn best through the use of audiovisuals;

2. Auditory learners who rely on hearing, so they learn best by listening; and

3. Kinesthetic learners who require movement, so they learn best through hands on activities.

This simple learning style model explains why a training program that relies on only one training method or learning activity will be much less effective than if it incorporates a variety of learning activities.

g. Learner Practice

There are three closely related approaches that a trainer can take to ensure that the learners have the preparation and practice they need to build their confidence in their own competence:

1. Plan for the learners to demonstrate their learning in the classroom. When designing the curriculum, the learning objectives should identify what the learners will do both to learn and to validate their learning during the learning session.

2. Ensure that the learners are able to get immediate feedback regarding their mastery of the new learning. Participatory learning activities enable learners to practice and, at the same time, assess their ability to use new learning.

3. Provide practice opportunities for learners that require them to assume increasing responsibility for their learning. Brain studies have found that learners require three examples or iterations to learn new skills or concepts.

The three practice opportunities can include:

1. Directed practice, in which the trainer walks the entire group of learners through a new process or procedure;

2. Guided, monitored practice, during which the learners work in small groups so they can support each other; and

3. Independent practice, during which the learners either work singly or in pairs or triads. By the time of this third practice session, the learners should be sufficiently prepared to perform without the assistance of the trainer.

h. Hands On Learning Activities

Hands on learning activities accomplish three results:

1. Learners can practice and demonstrate their ability to apply what they have learned.

2. The trainer will have observable proof of the actual learning that has taken place.

3. Learners will gain confidence in their ability to apply what they have learned. As a result, they will be much more likely to use their new learning back on the job.

Curriculum design that follows the principles stated in these sets of three will result in a training program that will effectively achieve desired learning.

May your learning be sweet.


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