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In designing curriculum for adults, it is important to begin your design process with the outcomes, that is, what you want your students to be able to do in their rest-of-life roles as workers, family members, or community members. But where do those outcomes and their requisite skills, concepts and issues come from? They come from the stakeholders and subject matter experts who are your audience, or who know and care about the audience for whom you will write. It is this group that you will convene for an affinity brainstorming process. Here’s how I’ve done that.
When working with a client I ask, “Who knows what your target audience needs to be able to do and what it takes to do it? Who holds a stake in your target audience being able to do those things? To whom will it make a difference if they can or can’t meet the outcome? These are the people we want to invite to our affinity brainstorming session. ”
For example, if I’m designing a parenting program for families involved in the child welfare system, we will ask the following folks to join us for a brainstorming session: parents involved in the child welfare system, workers who case manage those families, parenting experts who understand the needs, strengths and challenges of children involved in the child welfare system, other experts and direct service providers who provide services to our target families (substance abuse treatment professionals, mental health professionals, parole and probation officers, family advocates, child advocates, or child development experts as examples), as well as the community, faith or culturally-based natural supports, elders, or advocates who these families trust and turn to. Depending upon the sensitivity of the issue, you may pull these folks together in one affinity group or you may pull them together by type: a group of parents, a group of professionals who work with those parents, and so on.
Once our team is gathered, I’ll explain the project and post the question: “What do families involved in the child welfare system need to be able to do in their lives as parents and leaders of their families that we want to take responsibility for in this curriculum?” And then, in teams of 3-4, our experts brainstorm, listing 1 behavior, action, understanding, or ability per sticky note. After a quiet work time, when there seems to be a lull in the writing, I’ll invite members of each team to read aloud and post their sticky notes on an easel paper. If, when hearing something a team member posts, someone has a new idea that extends or develops that thought, that person can add an additional sticky note. This process continues within each team of 3 or 4 until the ideas are exhausted.
At this point I ask each team to cluster their sticky notes in groups in which the ideas share a common theme. Duplicates may be removed, or an idea may stand completely alone. Once items are clustered, the team draws a circle around each grouping and gives that grouping a title that summarizes the content or theme of the grouping.
Teams then circulate to view the work of the other teams, finally returning to their own team’s easel paper. They may add, delete, or change any of their work after viewing the work the other teams completed.
Then the work of pulling these clusters together into a coherent whole begins. Clusters between teams are joined if appropriate, duplicates eliminated, items are regrouped and renamed as the group determines. This is the final product (sometimes spread over several sheets of easel paper) that I take back and hang on my office wall for the duration of the curriculum design project.
It is from these clusters that I write outcomes, list skills, concepts and issues, and take a first crack at a performance task. All of these (except the performance task) come directly from the work the stakeholders did in the affinity process. I record all of this in a course outcome guide (COG). This creates a one-pager that can be sent out electronically to everyone who contributed, for their review. I make edits based on the feedback, and once we have agreement on the course or training outcome guide, it becomes my roadmap from which I design the curriculum.
As I design, I often highlight outcomes, skills, concepts and issues in yellow as I address them in the curriculum. If something is not related to what’s on that one page, it doesn’t get included. If the entire COG is not completely highlighted, I’m not finished! In this way, the COG keeps me true to the concerns, knowledge, expertise and outcomes generated by the expert stakeholders in the affinity process.
Tracy Schiffmann, owner of Schiffmann Curriculum Design & Training blogs about curriculum design and training for adult learners at http://www.tracyschiffmann.com/
She is an instructional designer and trainer specializing in turning social science research findings into programs, curricula, trainings and presentations. Two of her curricula (Parenting Inside Out and The Road to Success: The Oregon Transition Program) are offered statewide in Oregon through the Department of Corrections. Her original curricula provide engaging, interactive learning that is based soundly in adult learning theory and outcomes based lesson design. Tracy also trains and coaches trainers in curriculum design and presentation skills.
The majority of her current business supports curricula and training offered by social service agencies, educational institutions, and social science researchers.