Iterative Process for Developing and Implementing a Curriculum

Ashu Guru, Ph.D.
Teaching & Learning Specialist

April 10, 2017

Curriculum development is a complex task; however, it can be simplified by taking a process approach. This write-up highlights the steps and resources in planning a journey to successfully design and develop a 4-H curriculum.  It is written as a map that points to existing resources in 4-H and extension. These resources will be extremely useful to those who are new to 4-H curriculum development, as well as those who have developed and published 4-H curriculum in the past and/or are redesigning an existing curriculum. 

4-H curriculum must emphasize experiential learning and hence it is recommended that modular structures – i.e. activities that are integrated together into a curriculum be utilized in curriculum design. Creating a modular curriculum that is a composition of activities is beneficial in two ways: 

  1. It allows the curriculum developer to thread ideas, facts, concepts, and values together where one experience builds on another producing a continuum. This continuum gives youth the time and opportunity to identify the inter-relationships between the activities and generalize them such that they are converted into knowledge which enables youth to solve problems that they may have not experienced before. 
  2. The modularity provides flexibility to educators and youth such that if they want they can pick and choose activities from the curriculum that allow them to participate in a program based upon their existing knowledge, interest, and comfort level.

Briefly described below is a process that partitions curriculum development into three phases: (1) Design, (2) Implementation, and (3) Improvement. Figure 1 graphically represents the proposed process; it is assumed that the curriculum developer enters this process with initial ideas regarding the curriculum scope. We suggest an iterative approach for developing and implementing the curriculum – iteration provides opportunities to accelerate the delivery through the design, implement, and improve cycles while incorporating feedback from stakeholders especially youth and educators. It implies that the (iterative aspect of the) process is more adaptable to curriculum that is delivered digitally as changes are far less expensive in digital curriculum compared to bulk printed curriculum. In the case where the curriculum will be bulk printed, one may spend more time in the design phase running pilots to provide feedback with only a few printed copies before bulk printing is necessary. 

Figure 1: Phases in Curriculum Development

The Design Phase starts with clearly identifying and listing the curriculum objectives. One must consider what is the learners’ prior related knowledge and how to build upon that knowledge to accomplish the identified objectives.  During this phase the curriculum developer selects their team and the team members take a role in areas such as: subject matter expertise, content development, teaching perspectives, content complexity, positive youth development, and technical consulting.

As mentioned earlier, it is highly recommended that the content is activity based and modular. The activities may be created or adapted from institutional and open educational resources. While creating or sourcing the content, consider what learning experiences will help youth in understanding the content and keep them curious, motivated, and engaged. There are several types of learning experiences that one may choose from, examples include use of media (audio, video, etc.), discussions, demonstrations, inquiry, gamification, simulation, role playing, experimentation, project, etc. Finally, the design phase involves organizing a learning path that integrates the activities and develops continuity by tying ideas, facts, concepts, and values together.

Operationally, project related meetings should follow an agenda and appropriately invite team members as needed. The team must provide an internal review of the curriculum once the content is ready to be implemented.  As recommended by Publication Guidelines (http://extension.unl.edu/publication-guidelines/) it is suggested that new publications have a minimum of three reviewers, including at least one extension educator and one extension specialist or department faculty member with expertise in the subject matter. You may refer to  the Publication Guidelines for details.

The Implementation Phase involves delivering the content. Conducting a pilot implementation can help in planning the timetable for how long each module will take with youth, and highlight opportunities to professional development of educators. One must also think about promotion and distribution of curriculum and teacher recruitment.  During the implementation phase it also important to identify data collection methods for quality assessment and evaluation.  The data collection methods may include how and what to document from:

  1. general observations
  2. skills that youth acquired
  3. products that youth created as part of the activities
  4. level of engagement of youth
  5. values that were adapted by youth
  6. the attitudes that were fostered

The Improvement Phase identifies changes that must be made to align the observed outcomes with the curriculum objectives. This can be done by answering questions such as:

  1. how effective were the curriculum/modules/activities? 
  2. were the purpose and objectives of the curriculum attained? 
  3. were the intended results produced? 
  4. is the complexity of the curriculum appropriate? 
  5. is the curriculum age appropriate? 
  6. are there any changes that must be made to incorporate social, technological, economic or scientific changes, etc.?

The developer then identifies modifications to improve the curriculum to address responses to these questions.

The Design, Implementation, and Improvement cycle is then repeated to make identified improvements during the next iteration of the curriculum.

Existing resources for implementing the process

There are several 4-H curriculum development resources available to navigate the curriculum development phases. Steps to get acquainted with these resources are below. It is recommended that these steps are followed at the beginning of the curriculum development process.

Step 1: 4-H Curriculum Peer Review course

The 4-H Curriculum Peer Review course is a self-paced, short course that can be completed in a single sitting - it is offered online at no charge. This course steps through the process that is involved in the national review of 4-H curriculum as well as non-curriculum educational materials. It explores each criterion in the review process and discusses the standards for evaluating criteria. Understanding the reviewers’ expectations and the review criteria will assist curriculum developers in designing great learning experiences. The course also explains the roles and responsibilities of becoming part of the national review team.  

Access the course at https://catalog.extension.org/product?catalog=4HPeerReview. Figure 2 shows a screen capture from the link.

Extension Course

Figure 2: 4-H Curriculum Peer Review course website

Step 2: Review Curriculum Development Fact Sheets

The National 4-H Council website (4-H.org) offers several extremely useful resources that provide best practices for the 4-H curriculum development. Sign up and register to access these resources at http://4-h.org/professionals/curriculum-development/. Figure 3 shows how to navigate to The Curriculum Development Process section of the website. To access the curriculum development fact sheets, click on the “DEVELOP” Tab and review the “Activity Development Resources” on that page. 

4-H Professional Resources

Figure 3: Screen Capture of Curriculum Development Process 4-H.org section of the website

The National 4-H Council 4-H.org also hosts several templates that one may use:

  • Activity/lesson templates - these will guide  content authoring and may be accessed at:

    4-H.org > 4-H Professionals > Professional Resources > Curriculum Development > DEVELOP > Activity (Lesson Plan) Templates.

  • Content and activities review templates – these will guide the internal structured review of the developed curriculum and may be accessed at:

    4-H.org > 4-H Professionals > Professional Resources > Curriculum Development > REVIEW > Peer Review Options.


Content adapted from:
  • 4-H.org, The National 4-H Council. http://4-h.org
  • Durdu, P. O., Yalabik, N., & Cagiltay, K. (2009). A Distributed Online Curriculum and Courseware Development Model. Educational Technology & Society, 12(1), 230-248.
  • Smith, M., Meehan, C., Levings, J.,Hoyer M. , Jamison, K., Williams, E. (2012). An Intra-Campus Strategy for Using Campus-Based Resources to Enhance Youth Curriculum Development. 
  • Jamison, K., Williams, E., Smith, M., Meehan, C., Levings, J.,Hoyer M. (2012). An Inter-Campus Curriculum Development Strategy to Enhance Youth Curriculum Development: Working with LGU Colleagues in Other States
  • Educational System and Practice in Japan, (2017). Available at: http://www.criced.tsukuba.ac.jp/keiei/kyozai_ppe_f4.html
  • Learning & Teaching, (2017). ePortfolio: Dr. Simon Priest. http://simonpriest.altervista.org/LT.html
  • Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., & Fung, I. (2008). Teacher professional learning and development.