Category Archives: Curriculum design

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

Curriculum Design: Correlation Design

Correlation design is similar to broad-field design in that it is focused on integration. The difference is that correlation design combines only two subjects while broad-field will combine several subjects.  In many ways, one could say that correlation design is a simplistic version of broad-field design.

Some examples of correlation design include biochemistry, which is the combining of biology and chemistry. Other examples include social psychology, which is sociology and psychology; bio-statistics, which is biology and statistics; and music technology, which focuses on music and its use through technology.  Generally, correlation design is found at the university level where students need expertise in specific subjects.

The advantages of correlation design are that it fills in the gaps within curriculum of two subjects that are related. The two subjects are combined in innovative ways and the students are able to see the connections between the two of them.

The disadvantages are that few teachers have enough expertise in the two subjects to successful correlate them in a curriculum. In addition, few teachers have the time to collaborate with their peers on a project such as this.  Despite these issues, correlation design is an option for teachers interested in creating a unique curriculum for the needs of their students.

Types of Curriculum Design: Broad-Fields

Broad-fields design is in response to one of the major weaknesses of subject-centered design. Recall, that one concern with subject-centered design was a lack of integration. In other words, subject-centered design is considered by many to be too compartmentalized. The students do not see the connections between subjects. This lead to a curriculum design that was interdisciplinary in its approach

To deal with this fragmentation of knowledge, broad-field designers try to collapse subjects with similar content into a larger umbrella subject. Two of the best examples from would be Social Studies and Language Arts.

Social studies is the umbrella term for a mixture of economics, geography, history, sociology, and political science. Language Arts is the umbrella subject for grammar, literature, composition, and linguistics.  The subjects that were combined have much in common and it was not a huge leap to merge them.  For example, composition and spelling have much in common and they need each other as do history and political science.

Broad-field design is most common at the K-12 level and every teacher has encountered this design. One concern with this design is depth. By combining so many subjects, the students get a shallow amount of knowledge in comparison to the deeper content of a single-subject.  Despite this drawback, the principle to remember is that the needs of the students is what determines the appropriateness of the design.

Types of Curriculum Design: Subject Centered

Curriculum design is about how a person envision what a curriculum should be. There are several standard models of curriculum design. One of the most prominent is the subject-centered design.

The subject-centered designer divides the curriculum into nice and neat subjects such as math, science, history, literature, etc. This structuring of the disciplines is for practical reasons. It organizes the curriculum into basic concepts that are combined based on what they have in common. The essential knowledge of each area is gathered together to be taught to students.

Where the division of the curriculum stops depends on its purpose. Any expert in education knows that subjects overlap and the division is often arbitrary. In addition, every subject can be further divided into smaller parts. For example, English can be broken down into writing, reading, speech, grammar, and more.

A major criticism of this design is the lack of integration or horizontal articulation.  The learning is compartmentalized and the students often never see the connections across subjects. In addition, the subject-centered design does not take into account the needs and interest of the students.  The textbook is made by experts in the field who already know what knowledge and even experiences a child requires.

Despite this, the subject design is by far the most popular approach. It is easy to do and practical. It’s appropriateness needs to be left to the educator who is trying to help their students.

Articulation and Curriculum

Articulation is closely related to sequence, which was discussed in an earlier post. Sequencing in curriculum is about determining the order of concepts within a grade and subject. However, articulation is sequencing across grade levels and or across subjects.

For example, for a math curriculum, the teacher of basic algebra may towards the end of the school year begin to touch on some concepts related to geometry. The geometry teacher of the next school year may begin with some of the more advanced algebra concepts from last year before moving into geometry material. This is an example of vertical articulation in that one subject, math, is being aligned across different grade levels so that there is a smooth transition from algebra to geometry.

Articulation can also happen within a grade but across different subjects. For example, it is common for science and math classes to cover many of the same material but with a different application.  A chemistry class might require students to take algebra 2 at the same time or a physics class may require concurrent enrollment in calculus.  This is an example of horizontal articulation because it is happening across subjects rather than between grades.

A more practical example would by the use of thematic multidisciplinary units, which are more common at the elementary level. There is a theme, such as justice, which is covered in several subjects such as social studies and English. The students examine the theme from multiple perspectives with the goal of deepening their understanding of the theme.  Another term for horizontal articulation is integration.

Articulation is not easy to do. However, there are times when it is appropriate or can break the monotony of the learning process for students.  When to use this depends on the philosophy and goals of the school and needs of the students.

Continuity and Curriculum

Another consideration of curriculum design is continuity. Continuity is the repetition of important concepts within the curriculum vertical or over time.  For example, if developing critical thinking is important in a curriculum than this concept will appear throughout the curriculum at a gradual higher and higher level of complexity. This ensures that the students develop mastery of the important concept or idea.

One simple way to look at continuity is the idea of repeat and expand. A teacher shares an idea one way. In the future, they return to the idea and add another layer of complexity to it. This process is repeated over and over again until the entire concept is explained to the students.

The person who has developed the idea of continuity to its highest levels is probably Jerome Bruner. He is widely known for the development of the spiral curriculum in which ideas are developed and redeveloped over the course of a curriculum. Burner is famous for this because he was one of the first to document and explain this technique.

Teachers need to be aware of how they will approach continuity. Some ideas need to be addressed more than once. It is up to the curriculum designer to know when this is necessary.

Sequence and Curriculum

A question to consider when designing curriculum is the following…

  1. In what order should I present the information?

This question is answered through thinking about the sequence of the curriculum. The sequence is the order in which the information is presented to the student. How to sequence the curriculum depends on the development of the students cognitively. There are four common sequencing approaches in curriculum design, simple-to-complex, prerequisite learning, whole-to-part learning, and chronological learning.

Simple-to-complex learning is self explanatory. The curriculum is designed in such a way that simpler concepts are presented before more complex ones. Many math curriculums use this sequencing approach.

Prerequisite learning is a form of sequencing in which certain knowledge must come before more advance knowledge. It is similar to simple-to-complex learning but the sequencing of the prerequisite knowledge does not matter as long as all of it is addressed before the more complex knowledge. Many college majors have prerequisites that must be taken before other classes. Many times, the order in which these classes are taken does not matter as long as all of them are taken before a more advanced class.

Whole-to-part learning provides students with an overview of the subject before going into specific details. This is a deductive approach in contrast to the inductive approach of simple-to-complex learning. Sometimes foreign languages are taught whole-to-part in that instead of starting with grammar, a teacher will dive right into sentences to get the students using the language in a natural way.

Lastly, chronological learning is when the curriculum is sequenced by the order they concepts happened historically. Naturally, history is a subject that often uses a sequencing that is chronological.

The type of sequencing to use depends on the goals and purpose of the curriculum. Most subjects can be taught using any of these forms of sequencing. It is the needs of the students that determine what may be the most appropriate option.

Scope of the Curriculum

When designing curriculum, there are certain considerations to keep in mind. In this post, we will look at the following question.

  1. How wide and deep should the curriculum be?

How wide and deep should the curriculum be? This first question relates to the scope of a curriculum. The scope is breadth and depth of a curriculum. Some curriculum are broad, in that they have many different ideas and subjects discussed, while not being very deep because nothing is discussed in detail. An example of this would be any kind of music or art appreciation class.  There are many topics that are discussed in a shallow way. This is because the goal of the course is often exposure to unfamiliar content rather than mastery of it. Other classes are much more narrow in focus but concepts are dealt with in great detail.

One example of this would be an upper division education class such as classroom management. This class is highly focused on one particular aspect of teaching.  The students have learned the fundamentals and now need deeper knowledge of this one facet of teaching. The scope of a curriculum is determined by the goals of the designer. Do the students need more breadth or depth? What do they need to know for the future? Scope addresses these concerns. One cannot say a curriculum is too broad or narrow unless it does not match the needs of the students and or the goals of the institution. In other words, scope can only be inappropriate in comparison to the goals and needs of the stakeholders.

Curriculum Design Sources

The sources of curriculum design are the same as a person’s philosophy. How a person views the world and the experiences they have had impacts how they design and conceptualize curriculum. There are many sources of curriculum design and among them includes science, morals, learner, knowledge, and society.

Some see curriculum design as a scientific process and they focus on quantifying the elements of the curriculum. This group often focus on thinking strategies and elements of cognitive psychology.

In contrast to this group, other see morals as a source of curriculum. Morals are often derived from what people consider to be spiritual authorities such as the Bible. For this source, lasting truth and inequality in regards to the value of different subjects is part of adhering to this source.

The learner is another source. The student is where the curriculum comes from. This source influences curriculum design by stressing student-centered learning and activities. Students are not passive objects but active individuals who participate in their learning.  The student interacts with the curriculum rather than is feed the curriculum.

The opposite of the student as a source would be knowledge as the source. This is subject centered view in which a teacher needs to decide what knowledge is most valuable.  Knowledge should be structured as a discipline with clear boundaries. As such, interdisciplinary approach do not work with this view.

Society as a source believes that curriculum design should include collaboration. Designers should not ignore the diversity of human life as seen in culture, ethnicity and social class. The curriculum should imbibe this and meet the needs of each student.

Few people are in one camp. Usually, people draw from several different sources as they design curriculum.

Curriculum Design

The design of curriculum is about determining how the parts of a curriculum interact and interrelate.  Design is about how a teacher conceives or thinks about the curriculum. This is in contrast to curriculum development which is the step-by-step process of developing what was first thought of as a design in the mind of the teacher.

There are four basic parts to a curriculum that is addressed when designing. These parts are the objectives, content, learning experiences, and evaluation. How these parts interact is what curriculum design is about.

The four components of curriculum design can also be thought of as four questions that need to be answered when designing curriculum. These questions are…

  1. What should the students do? (Objectives)
  2. What subjects should be included? (Content)
  3. What instructional strategies should be used? (learning experiences)
  4. How should we appraise the curriculum? (Evaluation)

These are the big four questions in curriculum design. Everyone will answer these questions differently because we all have different experiences and philosophies.  There is no right or wrong way to design curriculum but rather the goal is to have a well thought out conception of the curriculum that will serve the needs of the students.