ABC of learning and teaching in medicine

Curriculum design

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7383.268 (Published 1 February 2003)
Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:268

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  1. David Prideaux

    The curriculum represents the expression of educational ideas in practice. The word curriculum has its roots in the Latin word for track or race course. From there it came to mean course of study or syllabus. Today the definition is much wider and includes all the planned learning experiences of a school or educational institution.

    Three levels of a curriculum

    The curriculum must be in a form that can be communicated to those associated with the learning institution, should be open to critique, and should be able to be readily transformed into practice. The curriculum exists at three levels: what is planned for the students, what is delivered to the students, and what the students experience.

    A curriculum is the result of human agency. It is underpinned by a set of values and beliefs about what students should know and how they come to know it. The curriculum of any institution is often contested and problematic. Some people may support a set of underlying values that are no longer relevant. This is the so called sabretoothed curriculum, which is based on the fable of the cave dwellers who continued to teach about hunting the sabretoothed tiger long after it became extinct. In contemporary medical education it is argued that the curriculum should achieve a “symbiosis” with the health services and communities in which the students will serve. The values that underlie the curriculum should enhance health service provision. The curriculum must be responsive to changing values and expectations in education if it is to remain useful.

    “Symbiosis” necessary for a curriculum. From Bligh J et al (see “Further reading” box)

    Elements of a curriculum

    If curriculum is defined more broadly than syllabus or course of study then it needs to contain more than mere statements of content to be studied. A curriculum has at …

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