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Curriculum vs Instruction Design

empty slate (chalkboard)The past few posts have focused on Competency-Based Education, which is generally speaking a Curriculum Design Model. Designing curriculum to follow a specific model, does require instructional methods that support that design, so curriculum designs can also be instructional design models. But this is not necessarily true in reverse: instructional design models can exist independently from curriculum designs. For example, Inquiry Based Models are a type of instructional design that do not require a specific type of curriculum model.

When an institution undertakes a curriculum redesign, this is usually done by a team of individuals mostly built of faculty. Curriculum redesigns are both labor and time intensive, require extensive buy-in, and almost always require multiple levels of approval. It many times requires the approval of an accrediting body as well.  Curriculum redesigns can benefit from a curriculum specialist, who can assist with mapping and other strategic exercises. The redesign teams can also benefit from the wealth of knowledge and experience a curriculum specialist can bring to the table with regards to models and what other institutions have found effective, not effective, or worthy of more work.

Instructional design, on the other hand, is concerned with the teaching in a particular course. With faculty involved as subject matter experts, and in choosing the method of instruction (problem-based, inquiry-based, etc), the course development should also include an instructional designer. There is some confusion about the roles of IDs and often resistance from faculty in using an ID. I might even go so far as to say that some faculty even resent the “intrusion” of IDs. There are two common claims faculty make when dismissing the need for an ID: “I’m the subject matter expert” (meaning: “they don’t know how to  teach my course; I do”), and “…academic freedom…” which is a much often misunderstood and overused term, and has nothing to do with effective instruction.  When it comes to how people learn best and how to design effective instruction, Instructional Designers, and other specialists in education and assessment strategies, are the instructional “Subject Matter Experts.” IDs can help with the construction of a project, help with creative ideas, help with constructing effective assessments, help with constructing effective discussion questions and more. Instructional Designers do not tell faculty what to teach, nor even how to teach it, but they can help with constructing these things to be far more effective. It’s what they studied and what they continue to study every single day.


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