A Glossary of Terms for Residential Curriculum and Curricular Approaches Outside of the Classroom

When getting started in developing a curricular approach to student learning outside the classroom, there are a number of different terms and concepts that are used with which one should become familiar. Many of the terms used have been systematized over time, particularly by the faculty of ACPA’s Institute on the Curricular Approach. However, some of the terms may be used differently in practice at various institutions. Regardless of whether you call something a learning goal, a learning outcome, or a learning objective, what is more important than the actual word is that it is used consistently and is universally understood by those who engage with your curriculum. The following glossary can help in establishing a common curricular nomenclature.

Curricular Approach/Residential Curriculum

Although it can be given many different names in practice, curricular approaches entail the use of educational and pedagogical practices adapted from the classroom into co-curricular student life contexts. Curricular approaches are focused on student learning and all educational interventions and activities are designed to promote cumulative and successive learning towards a defined set of learning objectives. Some campuses choose to use the words “Residential Curriculum,” while others use a more generic term like “Residential Learning Model.” Although arising from residence life, many student affairs divisions and other departments have adopted a curricular approach to their work.

Ten Essential Elements

Developed for use by ACPA’s Institute on the Curricular Approach, ICA (formerly the Residential Curriculum Institute, RCI) and as a guide for differentiating a curriculum from other educational approaches involving student learning outcomes in the residence halls, the ten essential elements outline the philosophy behind the curricular approach. These are formally outlined in Kerr, Tweedy, Edwards, and Kimmel’s 2017 About Campus article, “Shifting to Curricular Approaches to Learning beyond the Classroom.” They are equally applicable and adaptable to various student affairs contexts.

    1. Directly connected to institutional mission
    2. Learning goals and outcomes are derived from a defined educational priority
    3. Based on research and developmental theory
    4. Departmental learning outcomes drive development of educational strategies
    5. Traditional programs may be one type of strategy—but not the only one
    6. Student leaders and staff members play key roles in implementation but are not expected to be educational experts
    7. Represents developmentally sequenced learning
    8. Campus partners are identified and integrated into plans
    9. Plan is developed through a review process
    10. Cycle of assessment for student learning and educational strategies

Educational Priority

An Educational Priority is an overall statement of student learning that describes what a student should ultimately achieve through participation in and engagement with the curriculum. A Priority is developed through an archeological dig process of reviewing educational theories and institutional level data and characteristics to contextualize the Priority to an institution and/or department. An Educational Priority differs from a departmental mission statement in that its focus is on what students will learn, not on how that learning or related services are delivered.

Learning Goals

Learning Goals cascade from an Educational Priority. Learning Goals seek to provide more specific statements of what students will learn in a curriculum. They focus the Educational Priority into sets of more narrowly defined thematic learning domains. Often not specific enough to be explicitly measured themselves, Learning Goals are broken down into constituent Learning Outcomes that can be more specifically measured. For feasibility in implementation, most curricular programs include 3-5 Learning Goals.


Each Learning Goal has an associated Narrative. Narratives are brief paragraphs that define terms and set the philosophy and reasoning behind the choice of a Learning Goal. Narratives provide further specificity and context, defining key terms and specifically identifying what relevant frameworks are adopted. Narratives ensure there is consistency in understanding and interpretation of Learning Goals across staff members and educational partners.

Learning Outcomes

Sets of Learning Outcomes (typically 4-6) are derived from each identified Learning Goal. These statements of learning (typically beginning with the stem, “Student will be able to”) are more specific than learning goals. They guide the development of specific Strategy-Level Learning Outcomes that are concrete and measurable. Learning Outcomes have associated Rubrics which allow one to sequence student learning activities towards the achievement of these Outcomes.


Each Learning Outcome in a curriculum has an associated Rubric. Rubrics are tools that are used by educators to help evaluate the learning and performance of students. They are written documents, often presented in a chart format, that help define progress and achievement levels towards various goals and performance indicators. Rubrics help ensure that one is appropriately sequencing one’s learning opportunities and serve as an important assessment tool.


Strategies are the range of educational activities, events, and touch points with students that provide opportunities for learning. Each instance of a strategy identifies certain Strategy-Level Outcomes that participation in that strategy will achieve. These Strategy-Level Outcomes are related back to the broader Learning Outcomes and Goals of the overall curriculum. Strategies can be ongoing, episodic, one time, or accomplished through partnerships. Examples of some strategies include: intentional conversations, roommate agreements, events, community meetings, social media engagement, or campus partner programs.

Facilitation Guides/Lesson Plans

Facilitation Guides (sometimes referred to as Lesson Plans) are written documents that outline how a specific instance of a strategy should be facilitated. They provide detailed information about how the activity relates back to curricular Learning Goals and Outcomes, identify specific Strategy-Level Learning Outcomes for the specific activity being facilitated, provide instructions and options for how to facilitate the activity in practice, and identify ways to assess the effectiveness of the facilitated activity. Facilitation Guides are durable and should be improved and revised over time based on the effectiveness of the activity in achieving its stated learning objectives.

Educational Plan

An Educational Plan is the overall plan for a curriculum. It includes all elements of the learning objective cascade (Educational Priority, Learning Goals, Learning Outcomes), the Strategies one is employing and their related Facilitation Guides. One may wish to have one overarching Educational Plan for an entire division or develop a number of sub-educational plans for specific department. Within residence life, this may include a departmental Educational Plan with sub-Educational Plans for specific buildings, class years, or student populations.

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