Results-Driven Curriculum Design

  • By: James A. Rice, Ph.D.
  • Published Date: January 2013

"We cannot justify continued investments into programs that do not yield real results, or that make us dependent on foreign consultants or teachers”

-Minister of Finance, Southeast Asia.

The new generation of Leadership Development Programs for the health sectors of low and middle income countries must embrace a formal drive to apply knowledge, skills and attitudes know to achieve significant ad sustainable results. Results are measured by the improvement in the system.

Preparation for Ministry of Health leaders from Iraq as they apply training to solve family planning problems.

To pursue Leadership for Results, the new Academies will need to harness new learning technologies. Dr. Joan Bragar, Leadership Development Specialist for Management Sciences for Health (MSH), suggests that Leadership Academies can draw upon LMG’s virtual and face-to-face development programs. These programs are based on transformational learning principles that link learning to participants’ own experience and enable them to shift their thinking and behavior to achieve better results; results that are measured by such health system performance indicators as:

  • Staff that are working in their positions with the right skills at the right times
  • Employees that are delighted with their work settings and resources
  • Patients and communities that are satisfied with enhanced services
  • Medical and pharmaceutical supplies are of the right quantity and quality
  • Primary and hospital care that is of the right quality and in accessible locations and hours

After a decade of leadership training in over 50 countries, it is clear that this passion for results-oriented team learning experiences must be experiential and action oriented, and be driven toward sustaining and continuously improving performance.

The design of new “Leadership Academies” must be different than traditional “expert” models of capacity development in which content is delivered in poorly designed classroom sessions. Rather, they employ an “empowerment” process that enables participants to work in their real work teams on challenges they are actually facing in their communities and organizations.

The Leadership Academy process focuses teams on their vision of what they want to achieve. Teams improve performance by working together - reflecting on their experience, analyzing their obstacles, and creating profound changes in behavior and results. This programming yields shifts in LDP and VLDP participant’s thinking from:

  • Being demoralized - to seeing the possibility of a better future
  • Blaming their circumstances - to taking responsibility for facing challenges
  • Working alone - to working as part of interdependent teams on common results

Academy Curriculum Design Requires Transformational Learning Principles

The following principles should be considered in the design of any Leadership Academy capacity development process:

  1. Learning is a transformation that takes place over time. Learning is a process rather than a single event, and classroom experience itself is not enough to cause learners to change their behavior. Opportunities to practice in a safe environment when learning a new skill are critical to making that skill part of a learner’s repertoire. The practice period is vital because it provides the opportunity to learn how the knowledge and skills are applied in a real world-setting. Continued practice with ongoing feedback and coaching gives the learner the confidence and competence to incorporate the new skill into regular practice. Observing an immediate positive change in the environment as a result of practicing a new skill creates an atmosphere where continuous quality improvement can become the norm.
  2. Learning follows a continuous cycle of action and reflection.  Action needs to be followed by an opportunity to reflect on the action and its outcome. Experiential activities give learners the opportunity to become aware of their existing beliefs and habits, and to practice new, more effective behaviors. The purpose of reflection is to give learners the opportunity to uncover the underlying assumptions of their beliefs and habits, and to examine them in the light of new information. On-the-job application gives learners the opportunity to address real work issues, leading to greater self-confidence and mastery.
  3. Learning is most effective when it addresses issues relevant to the learner. Adult learners bring their own valuable experience to learning. Capacity building interventions should clearly demonstrate how the new knowledge and skills link to the vision and goals of both the organization and the learner.  When people are pursuing their own goals and ideals, they are motivated to learn. A focus on knowledge that is applied to facing challenges in the learner’s actual work situation makes for a more meaningful learning experience.
  4.  Learning is most effective when people learn with others.  When learners have an opportunity to work in small groups to exchange ideas and interact with others, they are able to question their own beliefs and behaviors and become open to new ways of thinking and doing. Collaborating with others energizes people and enables them to accomplish more collectively than they would be able to by themselves. An individual interacting with respected colleagues who embrace a new perspective or practice will be more likely to adopt it. People attempting to implement new knowledge and skills in the workplace as a team will be better able to identify and remove barriers to change.

Learning occurs best in a supportive and challenging environment. When learners are asked to change their existing beliefs and behaviors they tend to hold on to their current ways of thinking and doing. A supportive environment permits learners to admit to not knowing and to making mistakes, and encourages them to try what they have not yet mastered. Learners also need an environment that challenges them to reevaluate their existing thoughts and behaviors. Opportunities to reflect on those experiences encourage the adoption of new ways of thinking and doing. [2]


[1] Adapted from:  Johnson K, Bragar J. Principles of Adult Learning: A Multi-Paradigmatic Model. In: Dills CR, Romiszowski AJ, editors. Instructional Development Paradigms.  Englewood Cliffs (NJ): Educational Technology Publications; 1997

[2] Dr. Joan Bragar, Management Sciences for Health, Cambridge MA, USA 2012

James A. Rice, PhD., is the Project Director for the Leadership, Management, and Governance Project.

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