Central Curriculum Design

There are several ways in which curriculum design can happen. For example, forward design aka the Tyler method involves the selection of content, followed by determining teaching approaches, and finally determining the quality of the teaching and content based on some form of assessment.

Backward design starts with content but then the focus moves to developing assessment that is consistent with the content, the last step for backward design is deciding how to teach the content in a way that allows students to develop the skills need to demonstrate understanding through successfully completing the assessment

Central design is yet another distinct approach. In this post, we will look at the characteristics of central design and how it differs from both forward and backward design.


Central design begins with deciding on the teaching approach first followed by the content and assessment. In this approach, it is the method of teaching that is most important. There is an assumption among teachers who use this approach that the method of teaching along with the supporting activities will lead to successful learning outcomes or demonstrations of mastery.

Central design is highly fixated on learning processes. For example, there is an emphasis on discussion, decision-making, critical thinking, etc. All of these examples are somewhat fuzzy in being able to assess them. We can tell when they happen but it’s not easy to place a score on them because these are subjective skills.

For many, this design is seen as learner-centered due to its emphasis on active learning. Discussion requires active learning as do critical thinking and the other examples in the previous paragraph. These experiences contribute to the individual development of the students.

Some Concerns

Despite the advantages of central design, there are some concerns. In order to place an emphasis on teaching methods, it implies that the teacher is a mastery of one or more methodologies. This makes central design difficult for beginning teachers to execute.

In addition, for even experienced teachers, lack of objectives can make it very easy to wonder of course when teaching. For example, whenever teachers select activities that look fun or entertaining they are practicing central design because of the emphasis on teaching activities. However, with a lack of clear objectives, students are having a good time with being able to articulate what they are learning.

The issue with objectives can also spill over into affecting the assessment. Without clear goals, it is difficult to determine what the students learned or if they achieved any of the goals and objectives of a lesson. With so much testing taking place these days it is difficult to justify such a design.

Using Central Design

Central design is highly useful in the social sciences and humanities. Such classes as critical thinking, public speaking, art appreciation are some examples of courses that can employ central design due to the subjective nature of completing course requirements. For the hard sciences, it might be better to stick to forward or backward design due to the need to absolute know specific forms of information.

In general, if the primary goal is developing subjective skills central design is an excellent choice. However, if what you are trying to teach can clearly be measured and evaluated forward or backward design is much more appropriate choice

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