• Constructivism is the idea that learning proceeds progressively such that learning outcomes are built or developed in a constructive sequence.
  • The Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) states the curriculum should integrate comprehension and cognitive skills with physical transactional skills that are effectively and constructively aligned curriculum.
  • Curriculum mapping can be thought of as a process that allows the structure of a curriculum, what is intended to be learnt, to be mapped over time and against the assessments and learning activities that facilitate that learning. The mapping can occur at a course or macro level, at a unit level or even at the assessment or micro level.
  • Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) need to align with the overarching institution-wide graduate attributes as well as the individual Unit Learning Outcomes (ULOs), learning and teaching activities and assessment tasks.
  • ACU’s graduate attributes guide learning and teaching, with a focus on developing ethically informed, knowledgeable, and skilful graduates who are sensitive to injustice and work for the common good. Mapping of the Graduate attributes should be considered by course and unit designers.

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Constructivism and Curriculum Design Curriculum Design Principles Mapping Learning

Constructivism and Curriculum Design

Constructivism is a particularly important concept. Originating from the work of the likes of Piaget, Bruner and Dewey, constructivism suggests learning occurs through a process of assimilation.

It is based on two key principles

  • that individuals acquire knowledge and construct their own understanding of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences;
  • there is a recognised sequence to learning that implicitly involves a progressive developmental and purposeful sequence.

Curriculum design founded on constructivism places student learning at the centre of learning and teaching activities, with the focus on what the learner does and how “knowledge is constructed by the activities of the learner” (Biggs, 2014, p. 9).

Constructivism is the idea that learning proceeds progressively such that learning outcomes are built or developed in a constructive sequence. The intention then is to build from the simple towards the more complex and progressively build on what students already know in a developmental sequence. (see Biggs, 2014). Understanding constructivism, and being able to operationalise it, is key to developing effective curriculum and is implicit in the Higher Education Standards Framework that TEQSA uses. This approach is also an efficient and effective way to structure teaching consistent with adult learning theory, especially the basing of adult learning experiences on real world intent and need (see Knowles, 1984; Knowles et al, 2015).

Constructivism is also the foundation of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). The AQF is the national framework that underpins qualifications in Australia, encompassing schools, vocational education and training and higher education. The levels and qualification types are defined in the AQF by a taxonomy of learning outcomes. The AQF states that the curriculum should integrate comprehension and cognitive skills with physical transactional skills, this means the curriculum should move from building knowledge and cognitive/physical skills, and then onto application.

AQF Levels and Summary Statements

AQF Level Summary Statement
AQF5 (Diploma level courses) Graduates at this level will have specialised knowledge and skills for skilled/paraprofessional work and/or further learning
AQF6 (Advanced Diploma/Associate Degree Courses) Graduates at this level will have broad knowledge and skills for paraprofessional/highly skilled work and/or further learning
AQF7 (Undergraduate Degree Courses) Graduates at this level will have broad and coherent knowledge and skills for professional work and/or further learning
AQF8 (Graduate Certificate/Graduate Diploma Courses) At this level the AQF states that graduates will have advanced knowledge and skills for professional or highly skilled work and/or further learning
AQF9 (Master's Level Courses) Graduates at this level will have specialised knowledge and skills for research, and/or professional practice and/or further learning
AQF10 (Doctoral Level Courses) Graduates at this level will have systematic and critical understanding of a complex field of learning and specialised research skills for the advancement of learning and/or for professional practice

Source:(AQF Council 2013)

Curriculum Design Principles

At ACU our consideration of curriculum design should be based on constructivism, the AQF guidelines and Curriculum Design Principles. These work together to allow us to understand that there is a relationship between them and the role of curriculum design in motivating and guiding students, influencing their choices of their study behaviours, and therefore determining their learning outcomes.

Three important curriculum design principles:

  • There are different kinds of learning and therefore there is a need to match these to different kinds of teaching;
  • There is a constructive developmental sequence to the way students learn – our learning and teaching activities will help students better if they are sequenced the same way;
  • What is learned later (in a course or a unit) should be more valuable than what is learned earlier – so curriculum and assessment design in courses and units needs to recognise this.

Seminal principles for curriculum design using a mapped approach:

Angelo’s approach fits nicely into the constructivist and constructive alignment approach to learning and teaching. It is a learning-centred curriculum design approach. It starts by understanding the core elements of the unit. These include the learning outcomes, learning activities, learning materials, teaching mode, assessment requirements and standards.

In his model, Angelo (2012) suggests the following:

  • Begin with what is hoped to be achieved in the unit
  • Start at the end, i.e. - what is it the student must be able to demonstrate by the end of the unit?
  • Once this is known, then the unit learning outcomes (LOs) can be developed to match achievement of the desired end point.
  • Once the LOs have been developed, then the assessment tasks (ATs) and the learning and teaching strategy can be designed in an aligned way

Meyers and Nulty used a set of five principles based on the overarching premise that the learning resources and activities are structured and sequenced with an integrated assessment strategy. Following these principles, curriculum should:

  1. Be authentic, real‐world and relevant
  2. Be constructively sequential and interlinked
  3. Require students to use and engage with progressively higher order cognitive processes
  4. Use curriculum components that are aligned with each other (in a supportive way that comprises both a system and a strategy) and with the unit and course learning outcomes
  5. Provide challenge, interest and motivation for students to learn

According to Stefani, there are a number of steps to enact effective curriculum design. In her model, Stefani proposes the following steps:

  • Consider the course learning outcomes
  • Write specific unit learning outcomes (LOs)
  • Plan the assessments that match and progressively assess the LOs
  • Plan and develop the teaching and learning activities and the unit’s content
  • Compile and develop the unit’s resources

In this model Stefani states that the assessment tasks can only be developed once the unit LOs have been developed and agreed upon.

Mapping Learning

The curriculum should be viewed as an integrated system where learning is developed following a progressive sequence and in relation to a real-world need. Teaching and learning should be deliberate and purposeful and take an evidence-based approach. This purpose should be explicit and clearly explained to the learner.

"Curriculum mapping is concerned with what is taught (the content, the areas of expertise addressed, and the learning outcomes), how it is taught (the learning resources, the learning opportunities), when it is taught (the timetable, the curriculum sequence) and the measures used to determine whether the student has achieved the expected learning outcomes (assessment)."

(Harden 2001, p.123)

The diagram below represents this mapping across the curriculum at ACU.

 Mapping Diagram

Mapping learning across the curriculum at ACU involves alignment of the course learning outcomes with the overarching institution-wide graduate attributes as well as the individual unit learning outcomes, learning and teaching activities and assessment tasks.

How do I map learning?

This process involves multiple steps designed to achieve overall alignment and continuity of learning to facilitate student engagement.

  • Identifying and writing/revising the course learning outcomes (CLOs), these articulate the aims of the course and align to the institution-wide graduate attributes
  • Identifying and writing/revising the unit learning outcomes (ULOs), mapping these to the course learning outcomes to develop continuity and clear progression of learning
  • Design assessment tasks that measure learner attainment of the intended learning outcomes
  • Develop learning and teaching activities that focus on enabling students to develop the knowledge and skills required to achieve the intended learning outcomes
Graduate attributes and Mission

It is important for course and curriculum designers to consider the development of ACU’s graduate attributes across curricula. ACU’s graduate attributes aim to develop ethically informed, knowledgeable, and skilful graduates who are sensitive to injustice and work for the common good. These attributes draw on the Identity and Mission of ACU. ACUs Mission is as follows:

"Within the Catholic intellectual tradition and acting in Truth and Love, Australian Catholic University is committed to the pursuit of knowledge, the dignity of the human person and the common good."

This overarching Identity and Mission is intended to inform and guides all learning and teaching at ACU. As a Catholic university, we are guided by our clear Mission, strong sense of identity and firm set of values. All three influence the decisions we make as an institute of higher education and guide our staff and students in their day-to-day lives.

CLOs need to be developed within this framework and directly address and align with the University’s Identity and Mission. CLOs will address the graduate outcomes that are relevant to the program of study and reconcile this with the aims of the course in a balanced way (Biggs & Tang, 2011).

Course learning outcomes

Course learning outcomes (CLOs) summarise the aims of a course and are specific and measurable statements that describe what the student should know, understand and be able to do at the completion of their course.

TEQSA (2013), say that CLOs should have the following characteristics:

  • Define the overall scope of the course
  • Provide a broad conceptual framework for the learning and teaching in a course and its constituent units
  • The constituent units provide a developmental sequence of learning that results in the assessment and achievement of the CLOs
  • Shows a coherent, rigorous and developmentally sound course
  • The constituent units progressively develop the knowledge, skills (cognitive and technical), and the application of those application and skills

The CLOs need to align with the overarching institution-wide graduate attributes as well as the individual ULOs, learning and teaching activities and assessment tasks.

Unit learning outcomes

The unit level learning outcomes (ULOs) need to be the constructive elements that constitute the course level learning outcomes CLOs. The ULOs will be able to be mapped across the course to logically show how the course level learning outcomes are sequentially and constructively developed. The ULOs should articulate the link between expectations, teaching, and assessment (Lasrado & Kaul 2021). When writing ULOs you should focus on using clear and succinct expression that addresses the student, as well as avoidance of repetition (Lasrado & Kaul 2021). More information on writing learning outcomes can be found in the ‘Developing Learning Outcomes’ resource.

Considerations when mapping ULOs

  • ULOs in the first year of the course are the platform of knowledge, understanding, skill and values development that graduates need.
  • Units taught earlier in the course will have more learning outcomes containing the knowledge and then understanding of that knowledge which the course provides.
  • ULOs in the first year will have ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ (for taxonomies of learning refer to the Developing Learning Outcomes resource)
  • ULOs in subsequent years will reflect more of the cognitive skills that students need and the development of skills of application than in the first year.
Learning and Teaching Activities and Assessment

Learning and teaching activities and assessment should be part of a constructive developmental sequence that aligns with the ULOs. Learning should be conceptualised as a constructive sequence, learning outcomes, activities and assessment should progressively build on what the learner already knows (Biggs & Tang 2011).  Assessment is part of the learning narrative, assessment as learning, as well as for and of learning.

The assessment tasks should match the kind of learning the unit is trying to assess at any given point in the learning journey. The following questions can help to map the learning to the assessment tasks (adapted from Nulty 2016).

Considerations for developing assessment

  • How is the assessment representative of the learning expected in the unit?
  • What is the purpose of each assessment? Where did that learning occur in the unit?
  • Did you assess something not specified in the ULOs? Why? 
  • Did the LOs specify something you did not assess? Why? 
  • How have you established that the assessments measure what they purport to? 

Curriculum Mapping Software

Benefits of using software to enable curriculum mapping:

  • A visual representation of a course or unit map can enable a clearer understanding of when, where, and how the use of activities, resources, and assessments contribute to learning outcomes, reducing the change of over-assessment, and can indicate where outcomes may be insufficiently addressed.
  • It may provide structure for a repository or database of course and unit information so that the curriculum and resources can be maintained outside of delivery, facilitating changes or updates to the curriculum.
  • It can enable collaboration across faculty teams and other units to enhance the curriculum and can run reports to help target particular insights for accreditation or quality review.

Curriculum Mapping Software can be used to sequence and scaffold learning and diagrammatically represent constructive alignment across the curriculum: within a unit, through a series of units, or across a course.

ACU uses CMAS (Curriculum Management and Approval System) for course and unit development and review. CMAS is used as a system for managing curriculum information from approvals through to publication. It provides a central location for reporting of progress through tracked and managed Workflows. However, at this stage, it is not used for mapping learning, although this feature will be introduced in the next version. For more information on CMAS and how it is used at ACU please go to the CMAS resources.

Other software can be used to support the process of mapping learning outcomes to learning and teaching activities and assessment tasks. There are different options available to enable this process. Commonly used software, such as Excel and Visio, can be used to develop templates for mapping learning. There are also learning design frameworks that can be used for mapping learning across a course, or within a unit. Examples of these include ABC Learning Design and Carpe Diem (Gilly Salmon). Curriculum mapping software supports the process of aligning learning, but a knowledge of constructive alignment is also required.

For assistance with constructive alignment, or information about curriculum mapping in practice contact the Centre for Education and Innovation by emailing CEI@acu.edu.au.

Angelo, T. (2012). Designing subjects for learning: practical research – based principles and guidelines. In Hunt & Chalmers (Eds.), University teaching in focus: a learning-centred approach, ACER Press, Australia, pp. 93-111.

Biggs, J. (2014). Constructive alignment in university teaching. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1, 5-22.

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University, 4th Ed. McGraw-Hill Berkshire.

Knowles, M. S., Holton III, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2015). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. 7th ed. Routledge, London.

Knowles, M. (1984). The adult learner: A Neglected Species. 3rd ed. Gulf Pub Company.

Meyers, N. M., & Nulty, D. D. (2009). How to use (five) curriculum design principles to align authentic learning environments, assessment, students’ approaches to thinking and learning outcomes. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(5), 565-577.

Nulty, D. (2016). ‘Designing (effective) Curricula 101’ PowerPoint Presentation, used as Teaching Materials for ACU GCHE. 

Stefani, L. (2009). Planning teaching and learning: curriculum design and development. In H. Fry, S. Ketteridge & S. Marshall (Eds.), A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education: Enhancing academic practice. (3rd ed., pp. 40-57). Oxon: Routledge.
Page last updated on 30/08/2023

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