Curricular Approach Processes

I love working with campuses to empower transformational change for learning by helping them launch and support the ongoing development of their curricular approach. Through my work with almost 100 campuses, I’m noticing new ways of thinking about a curricular approach that I think can be helpful. Here, I want to share about the four primary interconnected processes of a curricular approach.


The launch and ongoing development of a curricular approach involves four interconnected processes. For many years, those of us thinking about a curricular approach have discussed the three processes of design, implement, and assess. Colleagues and I have discussed these processes as an ongoing clockwise cycle of continuous improvement. Last year, we, as the faculty of ACPA’s Institute on the Curricular Approach, decided to organize the institute around these processes as learning goals: design, implement, and assess, and added lead as the fourth goal.

I want to offer this visual model to reflect how I think about these processes and their relationships. In the ongoing development of a curricular approach, these processes are not only working in a clockwise fashion (as we’ve previously conceptualized them) but moving unidirectionally, informing each other (hence the unidirectional arrows), and often happening at the same time. I also wanted to add lead, not as a fourth process in this cycle, but as an overarching contextual process needed for and holding the other three processes. One might simplify the language of these processes to thinking, doing, learning, and leading.


Design is the thinking phase. This is where we step back from what we have always done, center the student experiences, and reconsider our work. This rethinking and reimagining can be energizing: “I love new ideas! A chance for a fresh start!” It can also be scary: “What’s wrong with what we’re familiar with?” In a curricular approach, the design process focuses on two primary products at the macro level: learning aims and educational plans. In the ongoing process, we are redesigning based on what we learn from our implementation and assessment, and our redesign informs changes to both implementation and assessment.


Implement is the doing phase. This is where we take that good thinking, planning, and design and implement it into our practice and student experience. This is where we record the video message, offer the updated orientation session, or present our new conduct sanction. In the ongoing process, we adjust our implementation based on updates to our design and what we learn from the assessment. Our implementation also informs changes to the design and adjustments to our assessment.


Assess is the learning phase. We’re assessing whether our design can be improved to provide better direction and guidance. We’re also assessing whether our implementation can be more effective and efficient. In the ongoing process, we’re learning how both design and implementation are working and how we can do better in the next iteration. We are also adjusting our assessment based on adjustments to design and implementation.


Leadership initiates and maintains each of the other processes. It foregrounds the curricular approach and continuously helps hold these various processes amidst constant change in challenges, contexts, and people. In the ongoing process, leadership constantly evolves to learn from and influence design, implementation, and assessment. In a curricular approach, there are three levels of leadership needed: symbolic, strategic, and functional.

Your Curricular Approach

If you are interested in considering a curricular approach for your campus, I would love to discuss what that could look like.

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