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Curriculum Design Framework

Underlying premise

The curriculum of the occupational therapy educational program is designed to reflect the mission and philosophy of the institution and program. Our curriculum design is based on the underlying premise that the process of becoming an entry-level practitioner is analogous to that of taking a journey. In the case of preparation for entry-level practice in occupational therapy, the journey takes the traveler or novice along a pathway of critical thinking coupled with professional reasoning. As the novice journeys forward, increasing opportunities to explore depth and breadth present themselves. Each new opportunity requires the novice to revisit previously learned concepts and the journey takes on an upward spiraling effect. In each loop of the spiral, three phases (acquisition-application-integration) flow into one another and allow for the development of increasing levels of complexity. At the end of each loop in the spiral there is a period of transition, which allows the novice to reframe previously learned concepts in new and different contexts over time. At a finite point in time, the novice reaches the end of the journey of professional preparation and is ready to serve the profession as an entry-level practitioner. Although the immediate journey is complete, the graduate is poised to sustain lifelong learning in the pursuit of excellence. The overall sense of spiraling is reflected in the curriculum as a whole, within series of courses, and within individual courses. We show, in diagrammatic format, the conceptual framework for our curriculum design as a spiral (Figure 1 (PDF)).

The three phases

We propose that three reasonably distinct yet connected phases provide the overarching structure for the curriculum design. The three phases support the program’s mission and reflect
the philosophy of the profession and nature of education in our professional program. We call the three phrases acquisition, application, and integration and suggest that these three phases show correspondence with each of the three domains of Bloom’s Taxonomy: cognitive (Bloom et al, 1956 and later Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001), psychomotor (Harrow, 1972), and affective (Krathwohl, 1964). We show the relationship between the three phases of our curriculum design and the three taxonomic domains; thereby linking the journey to entry-level practice with the increasing complexity of learning that is the hallmark of graduate professional education (Figure 2 (PDF)).

Acquisition phase

We define acquisition as the ability to take in new sets of interrelated information, understand general structure and function, and sense the parameters of possible problem areas. Acquiring new professional knowledge, skills, and attitudes provides a foundation for all that follows. Typically, new knowledge involves learning and understanding new terminology, facts, basic structures, concepts, and principles. Development of new professional skills is introduced and orientation to new professional attitudes helps to socialize students to the values and beliefs of the profession. Acquisition requires students to “situate themselves-as-therapists,” develop a common ground of understanding about the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required by the profession, demonstrate their progress through successful testing outcomes, and prepare themselves for movement to the next phase.

Application phase

We define application as the ability to convert and combine the products of new knowledge with the process of naming and framing potential solutions to practice scenarios. For newly
acquired knowledge to have value for students, it must be put to use in novel, problem-specific situations that use the occupational therapy process (evaluation–intervention-outcomes
monitoring). Students are then challenged to reason out solutions using their newly acquired knowledge. Application requires students to “think-as-therapists,” demonstrate knowledge
through successful written outcomes (synthesis of evaluation findings, proposed treatment, and program plans), demonstrate skills through practical exams, demonstrate professional attitudes during observation and guided participation in practice, and prepare themselves for movement to the next phase.

Integration phase

We define integration as the ability to incorporate thinking and practice and to generate efficacious solutions to problems a variety of practice settings. The application of newly acquired
knowledge requires a period of integration in which students make sense of what they are doing and experience firsthand the effects of their proposed solutions in the real world. Integration requires students to “act-as-therapists,” demonstrate knowledge, skills, and attitudes through successful outcomes during practice experiences (Level I & II Fieldwork) that involve direct contact with those in need of occupational therapy, and prepare themselves to undergo a period of transition before they undertake another loop upward and onward along the journey to entrylevel practice.


Anderson, L.W. & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Bloom, B.S., (Ed.) (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay.

Harrow, A.J. (1972). A taxonomy of the psychomotor domain. New York: David McKay.

Krathwohl, D.R., (1964). Taxonomy of educational objectives. Handbook II: Affective domain New York: David McKay.