Does curriculum management have a positive ROI?

Factors to consider

Curriculum management is sometimes loved and sometimes hated by medical schools. We at Acuity have seen and been part of many curriculum management efforts in our history. We have a great deal of experience in making the curriculum management process run as smoothly as possible, but it’s never a small amount of work.

Previously, we shared some best practices for building a curriculum map that has value to its users. However, this still begs the question: even if done right, does curriculum management provide a good return on investment (ROI) to a school? In the future, we’d like to be able to present some solid numbers on the ROI of curriculum management. In this post, we’ll try to enumerate the costs and benefits of implementing a curriculum management system.

Costs of implementing curriculum management

Curriculum management at its most basic level is a structured process of planning, mapping, reviewing, and adjusting your curriculum so that it stands the best chance of delivering your school’s overall education goals to students.

To do this right, you have to have the Acuity curriculum database for your entire curriculum. Many schools do not have this database, and so the first step in curriculum management is to select, gather, create, and input all of the data into a database. From there, a process of tweaking and refining the data needs to take place.

Here are the major costs in implementing a curriculum management system, in (mostly) sequential order:

  • selecting OR creating a curriculum database
  • setting up the curriculum database
  • gathering existing curriculum data from multiple sources (faculty, course directors, etc.)
  • creating new curriculum data that may not exist
  • normalizing and inputting this data into the curriculum database
  • establishing mapping and data standards for the curriculum database
  • faculty and staff development to ensure that data follow the standards (for example, when submitting lecture objectives or curriculum content)
  • creating new processes for having faculty submit curriculum data
  • periodic review and updates to the curriculum

For most of the above steps, there will be many sub-costs: faculty and staff time, software costs, technical support costs, etc. This is no small effort!

Benefits of implementing curriculum management

One of the reasons curriculum management is so important in intensive professional programs (like medical education) is that the curriculum in these programs is, frankly, huge. Unlike most undergraduate degree programs, the curriculum of a professional education program is built by multiple departments, with threads, themes, unique experiences, and content areas spanning years, courses, and modules. The amount of information that is due to be imparted to students is enormous and ever-changing.

In this environment, stale content, content gaps and redundancies will arise. If left unchecked, these issues cause students to be frustrated, accreditors to frown, and faculty to butt heads. (I once met a med student who mentioned to me that six separate lectures covered the same “introduction to diabetes!”)

Here are the primary benefits of curriculum management:

  • a (relatively) pain-free accreditation (at least around curriculum management)
  • prevention of curriculum redundancies and associated fallout (student complaints, wasted faculty and staff effort, etc.)
  • prevention of curriculum gaps and associated fallout (accreditation issues, clerkship director complaints, poor assessment results, etc.)
  • reduced time required to make curriculum interventions (for example, to replace a declining content area with a trending one)
  • reduced time required to answer curriculum questions (accreditation-related, payment related, etc.)
  • reduced time required for students and faculty to find relevant curriculum content
  • reduced time required to investigate problems encountered during student assessment – you can see, at a glance, what students were exposed to and what activities they did to give you clues for the next assessment or how to properly adjust the curriculum for next year’s class

For each of these benefits, the dollar value of the benefits would be represented in terms of staff time wasted, additional hires not needed, and any other associated costs.

Concluding thoughts

Do the benefits of curriculum management outweigh the costs? I think so, especially when it comes to addressing student outcomes. By continually reviewing your curriculum and how students performed against it, you’re able to make sure that you are providing the students with the best educational experience possible. And that alone has tremendous value.

In the future, we’ll work to get some numbers in place for a true curriculum management ROI. If you’d be willing to share your budget or your expertise, please let us know! We’d love to hear your thoughts on the factors we’ve listed, and anything we may have missed.