Curriculum and Instruction Designers: Education and Careers
At some point, classic schoolhouse blackboards became dry-erase whiteboards, computers entered classrooms, and gym class included nutritional instruction. The subject matter is continuously written in and out of instructional materials, old textbooks are swapped out for new ones, and the length of individual periods and classes gets shorter or longer.
Whether they’re minor adjustments or climactic shifts in policy and format, changes like these are all steered by curriculum and instruction designers. When students enter classrooms, they see little more than the lessons their teacher presents, but what their teachers teach, how they teach it, and these important behind-the-scenes players develop the tools, resources, and methods teachers use.
To become a curriculum and instruction design specialist, you’ll have to earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees, gain experience in the education field, and learn to work within the complex hierarchal structures of school districts. Once you do, however, you’ll be qualified for a lucrative career that gives you a more direct influence on how children learn and develop than perhaps any other specialty in the field of education.
What is a Curriculum Developer?
Curriculum developers are education professionals who research, design, test, create, deliver, improve, and monitor the materials and programs that educators use to teach students at all levels. Also called instructional designers, instructional coordinators, curriculum designers, and curriculum specialists, they organize teacher training, analyze student test scores, and work with educators to implement new programs.
As a curriculum developer, you’ll research your school’s current policies, guidelines, materials, technology, curricula, and training programs, and then find ways to improve or replace them. You’ll work with educators, policymakers, administrators, and students to create a better, more efficient, and more productive learning environment.
That could involve choosing textbooks, course materials, and exams, and steering teaching methods, administrative policies, and regulations. Then, you’ll meet with groups of educators and administrators to discuss ways to implement these changes, how to best phase them in, and to identify any potential challenges or obstacles that are likely to come up.
Once all stakeholders agree on the strategy and begin to implement the new curriculum, you’ll monitor and assess the progress of implementation and help make any necessary adjustments along the way.
Curriculum Developer Specializations
Although you don’t have to choose a specialty as a curriculum developer, you might decide to work with specific populations, grades, subjects, and educational needs, including:
- Early childhood education: In this field, you’ll develop curricula for learning environments where children begin their earliest emotional, psychological, and educational development, from birth to age of eight.
- Elementary education: If you focus on elementary education, you’ll create programs to educate children during their foundational academic years, roughly from kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade.
- Secondary education: Here, you’ll create programs for educators who teach students in the final six or so years of their academic journeys, from middle school through the completion of high school.
- Special education: If you work in special education, you’ll create curricula for programs dedicated to children with learning disabilities or other exceptional needs.
- Bilingual education: This specialty involves developing and administering programs for educators who teach students who use two languages or whose native language is not English.
- Adolescent literacy: If you choose this focus, you’ll create programs and select materials designed to improve literacy skills in children into their teen years.
- Reading intervention: This specialty focuses on students who are at risk, who are not working or testing up to their grade level, or who otherwise require special attention in their literacy skills and development.
- Educational technology: In this specialty, you’ll deal with the physical hardware and software, as well as with the specialized training and theories involved in the use of technology in modern education.
Curriculum Specialist Skills
The work of a curriculum specialist can be intense and all-consuming. It’s not for everyone, and you’ll need the following skills and traits to succeed.
- Industry knowledge: You can’t successfully develop programs to help educators teach students unless you truly understand how students learn, how teachers teach, the obstacles and challenges both parties face, how schools run, and how school administrators manage it all.
- Research skills: As a curriculum developer, you’ll spend much of your time researching the genesis of current programs, policies, and materials, where they came from, what purpose they were designed to serve, and how they were implemented. You’ll study how programs are delivered, where they worked and where they didn’t, and how educators and students responded to them. This work could involve conducting interviews, observing classrooms, studying records, and analyzing reports.
- Analytical skills: Research is only as good as the analysis it precedes. As a curriculum specialist, you’ll examine the results of your research and apply what you’ve learned to decision-making, problem-solving, and program improvement.
- Excellent communication: Your success will depend on your ability to communicate your ideas, both written and spoken, individually and as part of large groups. You’ll spend a lot of time articulating and explaining your plans and intentions to teachers, administrators, parents, and policymakers, many of whom are heavily invested in the very programs you’re attempting to alter.
- Budgeting and operational skills: Curriculum designers are bound by the realities of budget constraints, laws and regulations, and district policies. To succeed, you’ll have to understand the mechanisms and bureaucracies that govern the educational industry.
Instructional Coordinator Work Environment
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from 2018, a large plurality of America’s 181,60 instructional coordinators—42%—work in state, local, and private elementary and secondary schools. The next-highest concentration—18%—work in state, local, and private colleges, universities, and professional schools. Another 7% work in government, and 6% work in state, local, and private educational support services.
Your career, however, can take place in other environments, as well. Many curriculum coordinators work in daycare centers, preschools, adult education centers, education technology companies, education research firms, and anywhere else where instructors teach students.
Curriculum Developer Salary and Job Growth
As a curriculum developer, you’ll likely make a salary that’s much higher than the median salary earned by most workers across all combined occupations in the United States—and it’s a field that’s expected to grow at a higher-than-average rate.
How Much do Curriculum Developers Make?
According to BLS data from 2018, the median salary for instructional coordinators is $64,450, with the top 10% of earners making six figures. That’s far better than the $38,640 median salary for all occupations. Those employed by the government tend to earn the highest salaries, followed by those who work in elementary or secondary education.
Instructional designers earn the highest average salaries in the following states:
|District of Columbia
Projected Job Growth for Curriculum Developers
According to BLS data from 2018, projected job growth for curriculum developers is better than average, but just barely. The field is expected to expand by 6% compared to 5% for all occupations.
How to Become a Curriculum Developer
Your specific journey to a career as a curriculum developer will be unique to your goals, your background, and your state, but the following steps are universal to all prospective curriculum specialists.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in education, instructional design, or a related field.
- Pursue and complete a master’s degree in curriculum development.
- Complete a practicum in a local school district and/or create a professional portfolio.
- Earn a teacher’s or administrator’s license.
- Earn optional certification.
- Finally, it will be time to pursue work in the field and begin your career.
Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Instructional coordinators in public schools are required to have a master’s degree in education or curriculum and instruction.” That could be an M.A., M.Ed., or Ed.S. in a specialty like education in curriculum and instruction or curriculum in education technology. You can also focus on one of the specialties mentioned above and pursue a master’s in instructional design with an emphasis on that specialty.
Prerequisites and Admission Requirements to Master’s Programs
To be admitted into a master’s program, you’ll have to first complete an accredited undergraduate program and earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field. You might also have to complete a practicum, submit writing samples and references, and complete the GREs with a satisfactory result, although not all programs require you to take the GRE. Many programs consider only students who earned a minimum undergraduate GPA, often 2.5, 2.75, or 3.0.
Curriculum and Courses in Master’s in Instructional Design
What you learn and the coursework you encounter will have a lot to do with your career goals and your chosen specialties and concentrations. No matter which specialty you pursue, it’s likely that you’ll encounter courses like:
- Theory and research in learning
- Emerging technologies for teaching and learning
- Advanced education writing
- Design and evaluation of instructional materials
- Practice and theory in teaching diverse populations
- Psychological foundations of education
- Project management and assessment
Note: Above course examples from the University of Louisiana Monroe, Aspen University, and other master’s degree programs found during writer research.
How Long does it Take to Earn a Master’s in Instructional Design?
Most master’s programs in instructional design include 30-36 credits and can be completed within two years. Accelerated programs can be completed in as few as 12 months.
Online Programs in Curriculum Development
When researching potential programs, you’ll find that many schools offer master’s degrees in curriculum development entirely online. Distance learning is much more flexible than traditional, on-campus education. You’ll have much more control over your schedule and when you choose to complete your coursework, although you’ll have to complete assignments by specific deadlines and there may be certain times when you’re required to log on.
It’s important to note that the online and on-campus coursework are of similar difficulty, as they are often developed by the same professor. In fact, the level of self-discipline required for online courses often makes it tougher. When it’s all said and done, the degree you earn will be identical to that earned by your peers on campus. There’s also the option of the hybrid format, which includes both online and in-person learning.
Resources for Curriculum Developers
- Quality Matters Instructional Designers Association: QMIDA works to improve quality standards in the industry. It was formed by instructional designers for instructional designers.
- IDA Job Board: The Quality Matters IDA Job Board maintains an updated list of open positions around the country.
- The American Association for Teaching and Curriculum: AATC was formed in 1993 as the first organization dedicated to recognizing teaching curriculum as a basic field of scholarly study.
- Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: ASCD offers resources including books, webinars, online learning, and consulting services to educators and curriculum developers. It also advocates for the profession, organizes conferences, and provides consulting services.
- Association for Educational Communications and Technology: AECT is a professional association for not just instructional designers and educators, but also policymakers. The organization specifically focuses on technology as it applies to educational curriculum.
- Training Magazine: This publication offers professionals in the field of instructional curriculum design news, resources, expert interviews, and networking opportunities. It also produces online resources like webinars, videos, and podcasts.
- Instructional Design Central: IDC is a professional association that includes 18,000 members in more than 20 countries.
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