Navigating Learning Landscapes: The Power of Curriculum Mapping Pt.2

Miriam Taylor (MT): I’m delighted to be back with Dr. Jerry Zandstra (JZ). In our last article, we talked about curriculum mapping from the 10,000 level. If you want to read that article, click here. But today, we’re really going to dig into the particulars. We’re going to work our way through the map together and discuss ways that we can lead a curriculum mapping session.

We’ve included a curriculum map graphic here again to help you better visualize it.

Curriculum mapping for learning and devleopment projects

MT: According to our chart then, it seems like we’d want to start by discussing Organizational Goals. Why start there? It seems like it’s kind of “big picture”.

JZ: Absolutely, aligning the curriculum map with organizational goals is crucial. As you develop the map, it’s really important to ask about the organizational goals for not only this year but also the past years. When you do that, you often uncover new or hidden priorities and gain a better understanding of the changing focus of the organization. Honestly, the real key is to ensure that the program you’re mapping is tightly aligned with the business goals. This alignment is vital as it ensures that the curriculum not only remains current but also directly contributes to the overall success and growth of the organization.

And I should mention one other thing, along the Y axis of this chart you’ll see Priority, Benefits, and Risks. Those are just more like reminders. You want to consider them each time and they often provide clarity but you don’t need to fill those in all the time. 

MT: How are business outcomes different from the organizational goals? They seem pretty similar to me.

JZ Business outcomes are similar to the organizational goals but they are at a deeper level of detail and contain measurements that the learning team may be held to. 

Business outcomes are usually the primary metrics, and it is crucial to determine which ones should be tracked to better support the team’s efforts. Typically, if you look closer at these metrics you’ll see areas where the learning team can and should be providing support. Aligning the learning with things like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is essential, and it is important that the organization as a whole understands how learning initiatives support business outcomes. Sometimes, the team discovers they need to enhance or create learning programs that more clearly communicate this connection. I think especially in difficult financial times, the learning team has to not only support these outcomes, but also communicate the value of this support which includes hard quantitative data and not just anecdotal stories, but I digress. 

MT: I have been waiting to get to this topic. Stakeholders are so important and they have a huge impact on a project. As we’ve discussed already, so much of curriculum mapping is really consensus-building, which makes it important to navigate well. 

JZ: It’s almost always when you conduct a curriculum mapping, that you find hidden stakeholders. They come to light because curriculum mapping covers multiple courses aimed at achieving alignment and identifying any gaps. As a result, there are overarching stakeholders to be considered, as well as specific key stakeholders for each course, module, or section being mapped. This includes Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who possess expertise in the specific areas under consideration. It is important to note that individuals outside the Learning and Development department may have a different perspective on who the stakeholders are and how they should be engaged. Identifying who handles this process effectively, selecting appropriate SMEs, and determining suitable reviewers is essential to ensure a comprehensive and effective curriculum mapping process.

MT Organization Values- Why do we include organization values here? Does that impact our mapping? 


We’ve all worked in organizations where core values were just a poster on a wall. No one knows what they are or really cares anything about them. This just highlights how important it is to incorporate an organizational value discussion into the curriculum mapping session. First, the content of the curriculum has to reflect the company’s values so that the learning materials are in line with the organization’s core principles. Second, by integrating the values into the design, you can effectively reinforce and promote these values throughout the learning materials and experiences. Third, embedding these values in the curriculum is a way to bring visibility to any values that may not be fully operationalized within the company culture. The overall goal is to ensure that the current learning opportunities align with the organization’s values, emphasizing that learning is not separate from these core principles but is really important to reinforcing them. Additionally, it is important to identify any specific values that are key, requiring a particular focus and emphasis within the learning materials and experiences.

MT: Learning Culture is a big passion of mine so obviously I think this is an important topic for any organization but I wonder why we include it here in a curriculum mapping? 

JZ: Asking questions about the learning culture is so critical because it allows us to unearth underlying attitudes that significantly influence the potential success or failure of a program. Questions focusing on determining the current learning experiences available, as well as the prevailing culture. Understanding whether learning is viewed as a development opportunity or as a form of punishment, gauging people’s reactions—whether they are enthusiastic or disinterested—identifying barriers to accessing learning, and identifying what aspects of learning are effective, all contribute to understanding the cultural landscape. 

I would add one more thing too, assessing whether individuals are receptive to competition or prefer a more collaborative approach provides insights into the prevailing learning attitudes and preferences. These inquiries serve to uncover important factors that can impact the overall success and effectiveness of learning initiatives.

MT -I have a follow-up thought I’m hoping you can comment on. I think the question, “What are you doing now?”, meaning what learning initiatives are currently rolled out?, is a very good one and we recently had a client situation that illustrated how important this question is. 

JZ: Yeah, that was really interesting. We work with a client on some pretty standard projects and they release compliance courses 2 times a year on a regular schedule. This year when we met to plan out the year, they wanted the timetable moved up by almost 3 months for both sets of courses. When we dug a little deeper we found out two things. First, they were usually rolling out these courses between the American holiday of Thanksgiving and Christmas. So already it’s a busy time and motivation is low for required training. Additionally, we discovered that the whole organization operated on this schedule and they were facing “competition” from other initiatives being rolled out. Of course, it wasn’t truly competition but more a case of learner fatigue. Everyone was just tired of participating in training. Moving the schedule greatly improved motivation and lowered the fatigue level. I think this is especially important to consider for compliance courses. 

MT Knowing who your learners are for any given program is obviously important, but I also think it’s easy to make assumptions and short-change the learners in an organization.

JZ: Understanding the learners’ profile is a vital aspect of every instructional designer’s role because it ensures the design of learning material that is learner-centric and therefore more effective. But we often make assumptions about who they are. So to avoid making assumptions and becoming complacent,we include a column for the learner to make sure we are carefully considering them in every curriculum mapping process. It is imperative to acknowledge that the characteristics of the learners can vary significantly based on the content being taught, Questions such as why the learners should care about the material, what their daily routine entails, the various factors that may influence the learning program, what may hinder their engagement, and the immediate impact of the program are crucial in creating a learner-centric approach. By delving into these considerations, you can ensure that the program is tailored and relevant to your learners’ needs and expectations.

MT Topics/Objectives: So finally we’re at the section of the curriculum map that I think we all usually jump to first. It’s been good to really consider these other areas before we dive into our specific program topics and objectives. 

Can you provide a little more detail though?

JZ: The topics and objectives can be organized into two separate columns, but sometimes the objectives may not be immediately apparent. We may begin by outlining broad objectives and then, as we delve into each topic, develop more specific ones for each area. Essentially, this is where we compile every content topic currently available or deemed necessary to include in the program. This comprehensive view enables us to identify any redundancies or gaps within the existing material. Additionally, the map prompts us to consider the importance of each topic, assess the potential risks associated with omitting certain content, and prompts us to categorize the topics based on their intended impact: whether they address factual content for better understanding, skills or behaviors requiring change, or altering attitudes and beliefs.

MT: As we wrap up this interview digging into the particulars, can you remind me again of the value of curriculum mapping? 

JZ: Of course! It’s always good to back out to the 10,000 foot view when we’re done. Curriculum mapping holds significant value in several key areas. It allows for alignment, ensuring that the learning objectives are consistent and cohesive across the programs. Additionally, it establishes a baseline for measurement, providing a clear starting point from which to gauge progress and success. It also aids in identifying any redundancies or gaps in the curriculum. Last, curriculum mapping assists in setting priorities by highlighting the critical components that require focus and attention within that particular learning program.

MT: As always, it’s a pleasure to talk with you Jerry. Thank you for your time.