What is a Residential Curriculum? Curricular Approach? Residential Learning Model?

Residential Curriculum

More and more, residence life and education programs are moving to a curricular approach for their educational efforts, but what is a “curriculum”? In informal discourse the term “residential curriculum” is used to describe an intentional way of promoting learning in college and university residence life and education programs. A residential curriculum, however, is a very specific approach to structuring these learning opportunities.

First implemented in the early 2000s, the Model was detailed in a 2006 article, “Beyond seat time and student satisfaction: A curricular approach to residential education,” in About Campus magazine by Kerr and Tweedy. This approach lead to the establishment of ACPA’s Residential Curriculum Institute in 2007. Since then, the curricular approach has become increasingly common and popular. In his 2015 work, Student Learning in College Residence Halls, Blimling provides an overview of the curricular approach and related models for designing residential education initiatives. A follow up article in 2017, “Shifting to curricular approaches to learning beyond the classroom,” by Kerr, Tweedy, Edwards, and Kimmel, further refined the Model.

To be considered a “true” Residential Curriculum, an educational plan should incorporate the following “ten essential elements” (Kerr, Tweedy, Edwards, & Kimmel, 2017):

1. Directly Connects to the Institutional Mission

Resdiential Curriculum Icons.012Curricular approaches should be based in the mission of each institution. Therefore, every curriculum at each institution should be unique. This is not to say that there are not some common educational mission components across higher education, but each curriculum should be sensitive to institutional characteristics, academic foci, and student characteristics. Learn More >>>

2. Learning Goals and Outcomes are Developed and Based in a Defined Educational Priority

Resdiential Curriculum Icons.013Desired learning should be documented in a cascade-from Institutional Mission to Educational Priority to Learning Goals to Learning Outcomes. Cascading goals and outcomes are logically connected, with each flowing into the next. This occurs from the broadest of educational objectives down to the individual level.  The objectives should be clear and measurable. Learn More >>>

3. Basis in Developmental Theory and Research

Resdiential Curriculum Icons.014Curricular approaches are based in developmental and learning theory. Baked into the core of a curriculum, learning models should be informed by the latest research on how students learn best and how to accommodate diverse learning styles and the unique needs of each learner. Professional staff implanting a curriculum should be well versed in theory and evidence-based practice. Learn More >>>

4. Educational Strategies Are Developed to Advance Learning Outcomes

4. Educational Strategies are Developed to Advance Learning OutcomesRather than deciding on a learning intervention first and then defining outcomes, the outcomes should instead drive what strategy is implemented. Some outcomes may be better suited to intentional conversations, while others may be best achieved through an experiential learning experience. Viewing all interactions and engagement through this lens broadens what strategies may be used to achieve outcomes beyond the traditional residence hall program. Learn More >>>

5. Educational Strategies Go Beyond Programmed Events

5. Educational Strategies Go Beyond Programmed EventsFor decades, the “program” has been the main unit of educational delivery in the residence halls. Effective learning models recognize that programs and events are only one strategy by which learning can be advanced in residential environments. When programming and events are used, they should be of high quality and targeted to the appropriate audience. It is better to have fewer, more strategic programs than many programs of lower quality that are ill-targeted. Learn More >>>

6. Student Staff Are Utilized in Roles Appropriate To Their Skill Development

6. Student Staff Are Utilized in Roles Appropriate To Their Skill DevelopmentMost student staff are not educational experts. They are often undergraduates with little formal education in designing learning environments and curricula. Because of this, educational planning should be accomplished by the professional staff who possess advanced degrees and are trained in these skill areas. Student staff are best utilized when their strengths in creativity, connecting to peers, and encouraging dialogue are engaged. Professional staff are best utilized when they are determining and developing educational plans and strategies. Learn More >>>

7. Learning is Scaffolded and Sequenced To Follow Time-Based Development

7. Learning is Scaffolded and Sequenced To Follow Time-Based DevelopmentDevelopment occurs over time. Cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal complexity increases as one experiences, learns, and grows. Effective learning models are built with this in mind. Learning can be sequenced as a student moves thorough their residential and/or educational experience. From month-to-month and from year-to year, learning should be scaffolded such that each learning opportunity builds off of the one prior. Opportunities should be provided with an appropriate level of challenge and support. Learn More >>>

8. Key Stakeholders are Identified and Involved

8. Key Stakeholders are Identified and InvolvedCampus partners are crucial to the development of a curriculum. Each partner or department possesses educational expertise in a number of areas that are valuable to the learning experience of students. Effectively implementing a curriculum requires one to recognize that collaborations and partnerships with experts across campus are necessary to be successful. It does not matter where a learning opportunity originates from, but how it fits into the overall learning plans. Learn More >>>

9. Peer-Review is Accomplished Through an Intentional Process

9. Peer-Review is Accomplished Through an Intentional ProcessCurricular plans should be reviewed by multiple advisors, stakeholders, and neutral partners-both within and outside of the organization. Through the review process, curricula can be improved by honing educational goals and outcomes and ensuring that learning plans and educational strategies are successful in achieving their stated objectives. Reviews should occur on an annual, semi-annual, or ongoing basis and should inform the overall evolution of the curriculum. Learn More >>>

10. Assessment Occurs at All Levels: From Educational Priority to Learning Goals and Outcomes

10. Assessment Occurs at All Levels: From Educational Priority to Learning Goals and OutcomesAssessment and the measurement of learning outcome achievement should be an integral part of the curricular process at all levels. Moving beyond student satisfaction and attendance figures, successful assessment of a residential curriculum should measure what students learned by participating in educational activities. Assessments should be contextualized and account for progression through the curriculum. Assessment activities would be ongoing as well as summative. Learn More >>>


The previous ten elements are outlined at the beginning of ACPA-College Student Educators International’s Institute on the Curricular Approach, ICA, (formerly the Residential Curriculum Institute, RCI). The Institute, offered annually in the Fall, educates attendees on how to build a successful residential curriculum. Roompact is proud to be a sponsor of the Institute and is committed to providing campuses with digital tools to enhance student learning. Over the next series of posts, we will be exploring the ten elements in more depth. In order to learn and be trained in the approach, however, the Institute on the Curricular Approach represents the best source for knowledge and implementation. If you are interested in attending ICA, you can find out additional details and register on the ACPA website.


Blimling, G. S. (2015). Student learning in college residence halls: What works, what doesn’t, and why. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kerr, K. G., Tweedy, J., Edwards, K. E., & Kimmel, D. (2017, March-April). Shifting to curricular approaches to learning beyond the classroom. About Campus, 22(1), 22-31. doi:10.1002/abc.21279

Explore more resources on residential curriculum

This post is a part of our ongoing efforts to share research and insights into developing a residential curriculum. While these materials may help in providing a broad understanding what a curriculum entails, the ACPA Institute on the Curricular Approach (formerly the Residential Curriculum Institute) goes through step-by-step detail into how to enact these principles in your work. Roompact is a proud sponsor of the Institute on the Curricular Approach. Our staff member, Paul Gordon Brown, also offers workshops and other consultative services related to a residential curriculum.

If you’re looking to connect with others around curriculum, consider joining the Residential Curriculum Facebook Group or follow the #ACPAICA hashtag on Twitter (of the former #ACPARCI hashtag) and other platforms. There are a number of ways to connect with colleagues around this topic.

eBooks on Residential Curriculum and Curricular Approaches:

Roompact offers a number of eBooks related to curricular development and residence life and education. We make these freely available to everyone and encourage folks to utilize and share these widely. The following eBooks on residential curriculum and curricular approaches provide you with definitions, instructions, and review materials to aid you in your educational work on campus.

Curriculum Standards Self Assessment Guide Download

Posts About the 10 Essential Elements of a Residential Curriculum:

Case Studies

Further Reading on Developing a Residential Curriculum:

Learn More About Our Curriculum Workshops and Consulting Services

Publications on Developing a Residential Curriculum or Curricular Approach:

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles:

About Curricular Approaches:

Reference Curricular Approaches:

Contain Sub-Sections on Curricular Approaches:

Research on the Curricular Approach:

Organizational Perspective On Implementing The Residential Curriculum ApproachDissertation: Organizational Perspective On Implementing the Residential Curriculum Approach: An Ethnographic Case Study by Hilary L. Lichterman

Abstract: How does a college or university housing department adopt and adapt to a new curricular approach? This qualitative descriptive case study describes how one, mid-size, co-educational residence life department in the Midwestern region of the United States adopted the residential curriculum approach based on “The 10 Essential Elements of a Residential Curriculum” (The 10EERC) that are a foundational aspect of the content discussed at the ACPA – College Student Educators International’s annual Residential Curriculum Institute (RCI). Research questions for the study address changes that occurred in the residence life unit when adopting the residential curriculum approach, participants’ perceptions of positives and challenges in the transition to the approach, and how residence life staff characterize their experience of adopting the approach.

Videos About The Curricular Approach:

PechaKucha – Claiming Our Roles As Educators: Residential Curriculum and Curricular Approaches
In this PechaKucha, the presenter will reflect on how participation in ACPA’s Institute on the Curricular Approach (formerly the Residential Curriculum Institute, RCI) has changed the way he views the creation of intentional learning environments. By drawing from principles found in classroom curriculum construction, professionals can re-envision their roles as educators and learners with their students. Find out what we’re doing wrong, what we can do right, and how we can truly transform our organizations into learning-centered, student-centered environments.

A Celebration of Residential Curricula: 10 Years Strong! A Celebration of Residential Curricula: 10 Years Strong!
This video is intended to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of ACPA’s Residential Curriculum Institute and the exemplary efforts with curricular work done in residence halls on various campuses throughout the world. Various colleagues captured their insights regarding benefits to students, biggest departmental and institutional successes, and major lessons learned from adopting the curricular approach to residential education. Originally presented at the 2016 Residential Curriculum Institute in Tampa, Florida. Source: ACPA Video on Demand

Reflecting on the Curricular Approach to Learning Beyond the ClassroomReflecting on the Curricular Approach to Learning Beyond the Classroom
The landscape of student affairs has changed dramatically over its lifetime, and the introduction of the curricular approach is helping campuses to realize some of their biggest aspirations for student learning. This video provides an overview of some of the benefits realized as a result of shifting to a curricular approach and what the experts have learned about its power to transform campus cultures. These shifts are increasingly important as student issues and expectations have changed over time. Source: ACPA Video on Demand

Using Rubrics to Assess LearningUsing Rubrics to Assess Learning
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. Coco Du, Director of Residential Life, Macalester College, joins Eric Pernotto, Associate Director for Residential Learning, Clemson University, to discuss rubrics and their role in learning assessment in this session from the 2016 Residential Curriculum Institute. Source: ACPA Video on Demand

Building Assessment into Your Residential CurriculumBuilding Assessment into Your Residential Curriculum
Assessment is a critical part of building a successful residential curriculum. In this video, we show you some best practices for incorporating assessment into your residential education strategy. Furthermore it provides suggestions for integrating residential curriculum assessment strategies into your overall campus assessment plan. Being able to “tell your story” is critical for campus departments and divisions and the curricular approach can help you better define your outcomes as well as your success in achieving those outcomes. Source: ACPA Video on Demand

Educational Plans and Lesson Plans – Putting it all TogetherEducational Plans and Lesson Plans: Putting It All Together
Once learning goals and outcomes are defined, scaffolded, and sequenced, the development of lesson plans (facilitation guides) prescribes how these objectives should be put into practice. Steve Herndon, Assistant Dean of Students & Executive Director of Housing and Residence Life, University of Dayton, and David Shorey, Associate Director of Residence Education, Wilfrid Laurier University, share their experiences with educational plans and lesson plans in this session from the 2016 Residential Curriculum Institute. Source: ACPA Video on Demand

Developing a Residential Curriculum Review ProcessDeveloping a Residential Curriculum Review Process
Residential curricula need to be reviewed regularly to ensure they stay current and relevant. A review process entails a top-to-bottom assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your overall educational plan and implementation. These reviews can involve departmental staff as well as internal and external stakeholders. Watch this video for tips on how to begin to structure your review process including strategies you can do to ensure your curriculum is best set up for success. Source: ACPA Video on Demand

Additional videos:

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Institute on the Curricular Approach (Residential Curriculum Institute):






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Schools Implementing A Curriculum:

Although there are many schools implementing curricular approaches to residential and student life, detailed information on these approaches can be difficult to find online. The following is a list of schools that have references to curricular frameworks and/or planning documents (including learning goals and outcomes, strategies, lesson plans, etc.) online. Note that these are of varying quality, and although an institution may list or reference a curricular-type frame work, they may not implement a true approach in practice.

Most useful links:

Additional institutions:

Presentations on Curricular Approaches and Residential Curriculum

The following are presentations on residential curriculum that are publicly available online. The most useful links are in bold.

Student Leader Training and Curricular Approaches:

The following are links provide information on student leader training and curricular approaches including RA training and residential curriculum.