Curriculum 4.0

Curriculum development and skills for the digital age


HFD set up the Ad hoc Working Group Curriculum 4.0 in July 2017 for a one-year term. The Working Group was tasked with identifying the common elements of curriculum development against the background of the digital turn and highlighting best practice approaches. To this end, the group worked out which skills and learning concepts today’s students need to also cope with future challenges in society, industry, and research. These considerations yielded hypotheses and action recommendations for reforming curricula. The group produced a series of working and position papers that universities in the process of revising their curricula could use to rethink their degree program concepts as well as for specific curriculum design.

The core of the hypotheses and recommendations the Working Group proposed during the September 18 Thematic Week on the topic of curriculum development and competencies for the digital age [German] consists of creating an agile process that involves all stakeholders and translates the dynamic of digital transformation into a responsive curriculum development effort. For example, belonging to it on an expert communities system level is a future skills agency; on the specialist societies level, frameworks for Curricula 4.0; on the degree program level, skill profiles, and on the university level, the development of fine-grained performance measures.

The Curriculum 4.0 Working Group pursued the work toward its key goal from three different methodological and content-related angles, as follows:  




Best practice approaches as exemplified by data literacy

The survey of best practice approaches in curriculum design was carried out using the contentual data literacy subject field in a study conceived and accompanied substantively by the Working Group. Concentrating on a single subject field helped achieve comparability of the researched concepts.

The study titled Future Skills: Approaches to imparting data literacy in higher education [German] was completed under the aegis of the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software (IESE) and the German Informatics Society (GI). Using international research and interviews with experts in Germany, Europe and North America, it provides an overview of extant curricular offerings and structures for imparting data literacy. A key finding of the study is that the curricular concepts existing to date are decidedly heterogeneous. While a generalized best practice approach could not be identified in the framework of this current-state analysis, the study nevertheless points to diverse high-level strategies, including ones for implementing interdisciplinary curricula (“general education”) likewise discipline-specific curriculum development. A key finding of the study morphed into a recommendation for creating personnel and spatial structures spanning all disciplines.

Based on the results of the Working Group and this study, a follow-on study will be commissioned to produce a competence framework for data literacy based on the survey data, a systematic review, as well as expert interviews. Once again, deriving general principles for curriculum design in the digital age from the example of the data literacy curricula will be the goal.



Overarching elements of curriculum development

Developing curricula for a digitalizing society in which fundamental principles of social order are being renegotiated has been called a  “wicked problem”. How to adapt curricula to the acceleration in societal, technological, and scientific framework conditions?

In a series of workshops that built on each other, the Curriculum 4.0 Working Group identified and systematized the impediments to agile development of high-quality curricula. The process used by the Working Group for this was iterative. In one field, in which few scientifically validated experiential values existed previously, the Working Group relied on activating expertise and experience that was as heterogeneous as possible. This was done in the workshops and by letting the community comment on the impetus-like position papers and thus play a role in the development process.

The working papers listed below addressed ideas to the community concerning the challenges and principles of curriculum development for a digitalized daily and working life:





Framework for developing curricula in the age of digital transformation

The kick-off paper grappled with developing an orientating framework for curriculum design against the background tension between durable quality control and creating possibility spaces where innovative contents and teaching-learning forms can be flexibly integrated. A framework was proposed rather than a defined set of standards. .

In the Working Group workshops, four aspects were identified as particularly challenging when it comes to designing sustainable curricula: agility and sustainability, the relationship between teaching innovation and accreditation, the development of value-attitude, and the question of meaningful participation in society. Each was subsequently examined in depth in four additional working papers.:








(Value-)attitude as important element in developing 21st century skills at university

Two other papers published by the Working Group addressed meta-goals in curriculum development. Thus, the Working Group view is that, to begin with, discussion is needed on how much weight developing value-attitude should carry relative to passing on knowledge and building skills as overarching didactic goals of higher education.









3 plus 10 hypotheses on societal trends and the future role of the universities

Finally, the Working Group recommended that the question of whether the didactic objective of “employability” is far-reaching enough ought to be studied, given the ongoing transformation of the nature and place value of work in the digitalization context,. Or should curricula in fact be much more oriented toward competence building that permits meaningful participation in society with heterogeneously distributed relevance of paid work?


Prof. Dr. Peter Baumgartner
Professor of Technology-Assisted Learning and Multimedia, Donau-Universität Krems
Christian Brei
Head of University Development and Administration, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Prof. Dr. Angelika C. Bullinger-Hoffmann (Represented by Aline Lohse due to parental leave)
Chair of Ergonomics and Innovation Management, TU Chemnitz
Arne Gerdes
Research Assistant, Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science and Department of Physics Didactics, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Prof. Dr. Dr. Friedrich W. Hesse
em. Director of the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media (IWM), Tübingen und Vizepräsident der Leibniz-Gemeinschaft
Priv.-Doz. Dr. med. Sebastian Kuhn, MME
University Medicine of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Aline Lohse (representing Prof. Dr. Angelika C. Bullinger-Hoffmann)
Research Assistant and Doctoral Fellow, Chair of Ergonomics and Innovation Management, TU Chemnitz
Prof. Dr. Antje Michel
Professor for Information Didactics and Knowledge Transfer, FH Potsdam
Prof. Dr. Philipp Pohlenz
Professor of University Research and Professionalization of Academic Teaching, Dean of Studies, Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg
Stefanie Quade
Lecturer Innovation and Project Management & Consulting on E-Didactics at the HWR Berlin, Author of DesignAgility
Prof. Dr. Tobias Seidl
Professorship for Key and Self Competences, Hochschule der Medien Stuttgart
Prof. Dr. Birgit Spinath
Vice President German Society of Psychology, Chair of Educational Psychology, Universität Heidelberg