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The Connection Between Curriculum Design and Student Learning


Designing a curriculum is done with a specific purpose in mind. From pre-K to higher education, teachers and educators use a curriculum to establish a learning environment optimized for student success and growth.

After all, the stakes have never been higher for students. Increasing challenges require students to develop the expertise and skills to address complex problems. 

A well-designed curriculum is the key. 

What is Curriculum Design?

At its core, curriculum design is the organization of a curriculum with a specific course or class. However, it involves several moving parts that require educators to:

  • Identify the overall learning goals and objectives 
  • Determine content and activities that align with learning goals 
  • Plan (and potentially craft) assessments to measure whether or not goals were met 

This is different from instructional design, which is used to plan how you will implement your curriculum in order for students to learn effectively.

>>Read More: “​​Top 5 Instructional Design Methods for Effective Teaching”   

Types of Curriculum Design 

Curriculum design can be classified into three basic categories. They are differentiated based on who or what the primary focus will be. No matter the approach, the goal of curriculum design is to help facilitate positive learning outcomes.

Subject-Centered Curriculum Design

This approach involves building a curriculum that revolves around a subject matter, such as biology.  Core curriculum is an example of a subject-centered design that can be standardized across schools, states, or even the country.

In the United States, this is thought to be the most common type of curriculum design used in K-12 public schools. 

Learner-Centered Curriculum Design

The opposite of subject-centered design is learner-centered design. This approach recognizes that students are not all the same and takes each individual’s needs, interests, and goals into consideration throughout the design process. 

The goal of learner-centered design is to empower learners to shape their own education.

Problem-Centered Curriculum Design

This focuses on teaching students how to look at a problem and come up with a solution in the real world. When students are exposed to real-life issues, the skills they develop in the classroom can be more practical and pertinent. 

With problem-centered design, teachers increase the relevance of the curriculum which supports students to be more creative as they learn.   

5 Curriculum Design Tips to Improve Student Learning 

Regardless of the subject matter or the type of design used, the ultimate goal of curriculum design is to support students in achieving pre-planned learning outcomes and goals.

It is a process guided by an educator’s own experiences and expertise; however, there are a few curriculum design tips that can benefit all teachers.  

    • Identify the needs of students early on in the process. This includes determining what prior knowledge they possess, learner perceptions, and what knowledge/skills they need to know to be proficient in a particular area  
    • Define learning goals and outcomes. Doing so makes it easier to assess both student and teacher success.  
    • Acknowledge constraints. The reality is that teachers face limitations when it comes to curriculum design, including time, student abilities, and more. Identifying these allows educators to set realistic expectations. 
    • Establish evaluation methods. This includes methods used during the school year and at the end. It will help to determine if the curriculum design is working and what changes need to be made to better support students and/or teachers. 
    • Remember, curriculum design is an ongoing process. Educators should expect to make continuous improvements. Curriculum design needs to be assessed periodically and changed based on that data.

Learn more about our online Master of Curriculum and Instruction today.