Curriculum Design is Crucial to Student Learning

July 31, 2017

The stakes are high for students today who face increased challenges of globalization and changing economic and social opportunities. To prepare secondary students for success in college, work and life, curriculum must prepare them to develop expertise, accomplish complex tasks and solve complex problems.

Research Put into Practice: Apex Learning Curriculum and Pedagogy examines what it means for a student to learn and be able to accomplish tasks and solve problems in school and life.

This white paper, authored by Tom Baer, Ph.D., Learning Design, Technology, and Evaluation Administrator at the University of Washington School of Social Work, presents research pointing to the elements of curriculum design that are necessary for supporting learning in middle and high schools.

The research is divided into the following four sections, followed by a discussion of how the research is applied within the Apex Learning digital curriculum.


Section I: Teaching and Active Learning with Media

Students learn more when information is presented via multiple media in ways that reduce unnecessary cognitive effort, facilitate processing of essential information, and maximize processing potential. These elements contribute to learning with understanding and the goal of adaptive expertise. The student must take an active part in this process to learn anything; in online curriculum, there need to be appropriately timed and communicated opportunities for the student to give input.


Section II: Activities and Feedback

There’s an adage that students learn by doing. Research and life experiences show that this is true for learning knowledge and learning skills. Practice is essential for developing knowledge, and feedback is essential for reinforcing correct understanding and for correcting misconceptions. This type of feedback is often called formative assessment, which is separate from the summative assessment that is used at the end of lessons, units, or courses to measure what students have learned.


Section III: Learners

Learning improves when instruction takes account of factors that contribute to engagement. Instruction should take into account learners’ prior knowledge and misconceptions and what they need to stay engaged and motivated. For instance, learners come to school with preconceived understandings (and misunderstandings) and interests that affect their motivation. They also come to school with varying levels of competence.


Section IV: Summative Assessment and Digital Data Systems

Summative assessment and effective data management reveal student understanding and support effective learning throughout the instructional process.


Read the white paper to learn more about how Apex Learning puts research into practice in its digital curriculum.



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