Curriculum Mapping

What is a Curriculum Map and Why is it Useful?

Simply put, a curriculum map is a visual representation of the distribution of a program’s student learning outcomes across the program’s curriculum.

Sample Curriculum Map

Program Outcome #1

Program Outcome #2

Program Outcome #3

Program Outcomes #4

Course #1




Course #2



Course #3




Course #4



Course #5



Course #6




I = Introduced, R = Reinforced, M = Mastery

In many degree programs students are intentionally exposed to materials and activities that support the development of essential student learning outcomes in multiple courses. Students’ increasing mastery is supported by repeated exposure to and practice of knowledge, skills, and abilities. During standard operations curriculum maps support effective curricula several ways.

Planning A review of a curriculum map helps to

  • Identify program strengths- learning outcomes that are thoroughly addressed
  • Identify program gaps – learning outcomes that need more coverage
  • Determine optimal sequences for classes and appropriate pre-requisites

Alignment – Curriculum maps help ensure that department learning outcomes are covered in several required classes and that all offerings of a single course include equivalent coverage.

Scaffolding Curriculum maps can indicate progressive levels of mastery expected in sequential classes allowing students to move from basic to complete mastery in successive courses that teach the same learning outcome at progressively more complex levels.

Communication – Students learn best and are most satisfied by their learning when they are aware of the purpose of instruction and assignments. Curriculum maps are one way to provide all stakeholders (students, faculty, administrators, and future employers) with a clear representation of the purpose, content, and expected learning path for students.

Ways Your Curriculum Map Can Support Student Learning Now

The events related to COVID-19 and the move to emergency remote instruction in Spring 2020 make it imperative that we identify the gaps in learning that may have occurred and create plans to provide students with the content and skills they need to succeed. Luckily, a student’s education spans eight semesters and our curricula include multiple opportunities to master key skills and knowledge. For many departments, if a curriculum map exists, it can be used to plan to fill learning gaps that were created during emergency remote instruction. If you do not yet have a curriculum map, this would be an excellent time to create one! Once you have a curriculum map, you can follow a three-step approach to remedying gaps in student learning. Ideally, all members of the department should be involved to create shared expectations and to maximize implementation efforts.

1. Identify areas of reduced mastery of essential learning outcomes

Every major has program learning outcomes. Review yours to determine whether they adequately capture the essential learning students need to master for success in the major. If anything is missing, this is an excellent time to add it! Once the program faculty are in agreement that you have the appropriate learning outcomes, identify the classes that address these outcomes (if you have a curriculum map you will find this information in your map). Now consider where mastery of these outcomes was diminished last spring. A review of the original syllabus for courses taught during spring 2020 can be a starting point for identifying knowledge, skills, and abilities that were intended to be covered in a course. A comparison of this to the revised syllabus can highlight reduced areas of coverage. In addition to reviewing content that was provided to students, consider how changes in assignments and assessments might have limited opportunities for practice, feedback, and mastery. There is no need to consider every element of the original syllabus in this review. Instead, focus on the elements of the course that are essential for success in future classes.

2. Consider the impact of limited mastery on future courses

To address the impact of reduced mastery on future courses faculty members will need to identify the level of learning students were intended to gain from an affected course.

Introduction – If a learning outcome was intended to be introduced in a course and that did not occur, it will be important to add an introduction to this learning outcome and an assignment that allows practice before moving ahead in a subsequent course

Reinforcement – If the learning outcome was introduced in a previous course and was being reinforced in the class last spring, there may only be a need to provide an additional assignment or another opportunity for practice in a subsequent course.

It is also important to consider longer term effects of the progress of students through the curriculum. It is very likely that the changes to classes in the Spring 2020 semester will ripple throughout many semesters as students take courses in a variety of different sequences. When considering the impact, we naturally think about any classes for which the affected class was a prerequisite. However, even if the class was not a prerequisite for another class it is important to consider ways in which limited mastery will affect the student’s attainment of mastery within the major. Faculty will likely need to adjust courses for several semesters as students filter through the programs. A good guiding principle for coverage of essential learning outcomes is to err on the side of over-exposure rather than under-exposure.

3. Plan for long term course adjustments

Effective plans for long term course adjustments should include a method of assessing student readiness and methods for providing access to and practice of missed content both within individual classes and across the curriculum.

Early Evaluation of Expected Skills – An early assignment that aligns with prior student learning outcomes can help faculty determine if students possess the prior knowledge or skills necessary to be successful. If possible, faculty might ask students to complete the assignment prior to the start of class to support optimal planning.

Self-Evaluation – Upper-level course faculty could ask students to complete a self-evaluation of their readiness for a course allowing the students to reflect on their previous learning and share concerns about reduced mastery during emergency remote instruction.

Increase Time and Attention to Essential Learning Across a Program Most students will benefit from increased attention to essential learning. As you review your curriculum map, consider whether you can build more exposure to essential learning throughout your curriculum.

Just-In-Time Lectures and Optional Assignments – Many faculty members prepared online lectures for use during remote instruction and have existing Canvas modules or adaptive learning platforms from prerequisite courses. There are also many OER resources that explain important concepts, skills, and abilities. Additionally, the UNC Digital Enhancement Project prepared high quality materials for ten gateway classes in mathematics, biology, chemistry, and economics. Links to these resources can be provided to students to compensate for lost learning that is identified.

The Office of Assessment is available to consult and advise on the creation of curriculum maps.