How to Become a Curriculum Designer
Few industries have been as fundamentally changed by the remote learning revolution as instruction and learning design. What was once an initiative on how to effectively adopt digital technology has become a sea change in how instruction and training is designed, delivered and assessed.
As organizations in every industry – education, financial services, manufacturing, health care, etc. – invest in more effective means of providing instruction, the demand for professional designers continues to rise. The need for instructional designers is up by more than 20% nationwide, and every related position – from corporate trainer and eLearning developer to curriculum designer has an important part to play.
Curriculum designers, in particular, play a fundamental role in shaping instructional materials, in both educational environments and in developing training and learning materials for the private sector. If you’re interested in pursuing curriculum design jobs, read on for details about the skills, responsibilities and opportunities that are a part of this exciting career path.
What is Curriculum Design?
Though the modern understanding of instruction and learning design largely came about due to the necessities of World War II, the field of curriculum design is much older, essentially as old as formal education. However, in the 19th-20th centuries the rise of industrialization, the migration of population from rural to urban areas and advances in technology caused instructors and educators to question the content of what was being taught and to what purpose.
This issue was brought into focus with the publication of John Franklin Bobbitt’s 1918 book The Curriculum where he sought to define what curriculum was and to establish a theory of curriculum development based on scientific principles in order to better serve a quickly changing society. Over the last 100+ years since the publishing of Bobbitt’s book, the emphasis of what matters in curriculum design has continued to evolve and shift from rote memorization to critical thinking skills and from the classical disciplines to learner-focused design.
Curriculum design can be analogous to the work done by architects as they create blueprints for a project. Once an architect understands the goals of the developer, a the set of blueprints is created to match that goal. Similarly, before a curriculum can be created, the curriculum designer must understand the purpose of the curriculum, both broadly stated goals and also precise learner outcomes. “Start with the end in mind may be the best advice for any curriculum designer”, so says Dr. Bobbi Hansen, Associate Professor in the Department of Learning and Teaching at the University of San Diego. “With the end goal firmly in place, the role of a curriculum designer takes on the task of determining the best route to achieving that goal.” That “route” includes deciding on what materials would best convey the content, choosing method of delivery, instructional strategies, and, where the learning will take place.
What Does a Curriculum Designer Do?
Curriculum designers, sometimes referred to as instructional coordinators, are directly associated with the work of instructional designers and learning designers, though there are important distinctions. Mainly, while all of these positions develop instructional materials and design courses, instructional and learning designers specialize in how individuals learn, curriculum designers are more concerned about what is learned.
Curriculum designers are focused on the development phase of instructional design; their work is determining the topics and areas of development (the scope) and the order in which they’re taught (the sequence). Where a learning designer would also be interested in doing an analysis of what people need to learn and evaluating the outcomes, the curriculum designer’s work is entirely focused on the material, its scope and sequence, and strategies for presenting the content.
While some positions may seek a learning designer with curriculum design experience, larger institutions and organizations can have employees in these distinct roles collaborate on course design.
General responsibilities for curriculum designers include:
- Researching educational materials and consulting with subject matter experts to ensure the appropriate breadth and depth of content is taught and aligned with the desired learning outcomes.
- Developing the educational programs, instructional materials and learning aids that will be used by the school, organization or company.
- Assisting teachers, instructors and trainers in implementing the curriculum materials, offering advice and problem solving when needed.
- Designing courses in relation to a broader scope and sequence aligned with the intended learning outcome of a course of instruction.
- Setting a feasible time frame to achieve the course goals, and offering alternatives for additional learning.
- Evaluating the curriculum after a period of time and updating accordingly in order to keep the content relevant.
- Aligning the course design with digital resources, including remote learning technology such as conference calls, shared documents and online assessments.
In practice, curriculum designers are:
- Developing digital learning materials that would be used in online instruction, such as PowerPoint presentations, audio/visual tutorials and graphical learning aids.
- Creating supplementary course materials such as “teacher’s guides” that help walk instructors through lessons. Also additional learning materials like workbooks and study guides for students who need assistance.
- Working directly with subject matter experts to update the content of the curriculum. This also involves revising content provided by the SMEs to make it accessible for students and aligned with the learning outcomes of the course.
To effectively perform their job, curriculum designers are expected to be proficient in:
- Writing Measurable Learning Objectives
- Designing Lesson Plans
- Identifying and Adjusting Curriculum Misalignment
- Developing Formative and Summative Assessments
- Analyzing Assessment Data
Whether you’re starting from square one or are considering transitioning from another educational career track, here are six important steps to consider if you want to become a curriculum designer.
6 Important Steps to Become a Curriculum Designer
1. Obtain a Higher Level Degree or Educational Certification.
Every curriculum designer needs at least a bachelor’s degree in education or related subject matter. Any additional educational requirements will depend largely on where you want to design the curriculum.
At the primary, secondary or high school level for public schools you’ll need to be licensed and certified by the state. You won’t need to be certified to work at a private school, but they may require additional credentials. If you’re working in higher education at a college or university then you’ll need at least a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, instructional design, or other education field.
For private companies or corporations, while bachelor’s degrees are accepted, a master’s degree is likely preferred. Some positions may also require work experience or certificates in the field for which you’re designing curriculum. An educational certificate can provide you with training in a specialized area or serve as a stepping stone towards a master’s degree.
Admission requirements to attend a graduate school will vary by program, as will required credit hours and associated costs. For example, admission to the Master of Science in Learning Design and Technology at the University of San Diego requires a bachelor’s degree. As an accelerated online degree, students need only 30 credit hours to complete their degree within 20 months.
2. Develop Appropriate Professional Skills.
Beyond a degree, you’ll need to acquire or refine professional competencies and “soft skills.”
- The ability to interview appropriate subject matter experts in order to curate materials, such as interviewing physicians or nurses when designing health care curriculum or an accountant if covering financial instruction.
- An applied understanding of learning theories and the science of how people learn, acquired through studying learning theory, demonstrated curriculum design experience, or both.
- Experience in online curriculum management and familiarity with relevant digital technology, such as presentation tools, electronic grade books and virtual conferencing software.
- The ability to select appropriate technology solutions and incorporate them into the curriculum.
- An established ability to design assessments and gather and analyze data to determine the effectiveness of curriculum programs and determine the most effective teaching strategies.
- Though not needed for most positions, fluency in a second language can be a big benefit when working with institutions and organizations that produce multilingual curriculum materials to meet learners’ needs.
- Demonstrated ability to organize and manage a curriculum design project, including establishing deliverables, setting timelines, and communicating project status to relevant stakeholders.
Relevant Soft Skills
- Collaborating and working in large groups with other instructors and subject matter experts.
- Communicating concisely and effectively in written and verbal form.
- Offering assistance and guidance to instructors and SMEs.
- Creating an inclusive and welcoming learning environment, such as representing diverse perspectives across the curriculum, including source materials reflective of different cultures, and incorporating frameworks such as social-emotional learning.
3. Gain Relevant Work Experience
Most job positions will prefer that candidates have 2-5 years of prior work experience. This requirement can be a challenge for fresh graduates, but organizations hiring for starting positions may consider other education, technical writing, or technology-related experience you’ve had.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to work a lot of positions, but still want to stand out from other candidates, you can look for outside opportunities to showcase your skill set, dependability and professionalism. Volunteer opportunities, either with local nonprofits or community organizations, can help you shore up your resume.
4. Establish a Professional Network
Your best resources are other people within your profession. Whether it’s peers with whom you can collaborate or mentors that will provide you with guidance and advice, making contact with fellow curriculum designers, educators and other instructional professionals is a vital step in your career. Look for opportunities to introduce yourself and connect with others at school or in the organizations in which you work or volunteer.
Search for online events and conferences and ask to share contact information with other attendees. Keep a presence on social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. If you’re an active poster, share relevant updates and think pieces about instruction and curriculum design. If you’re more of a lurker, search for thought leaders on the topic and follow them, and take note of who they’re following.
5. Train in Digital Resources
Technology is the fastest evolving component of this industry, so you’ll want to be familiar with the latest digital tools and resources used by instructors and other curriculum designers. You can either look for online tutorials to teach yourself or sign up for an online course that will show you how to use specific software such as:
- Course authoring tools like Articulate 360, Coursetune or WIDS
- Infographics tools like Canva and Figma
- Writing tools like Google docs, MS Word or Grammarly
- Project management tools like Teamwork or LiquidPlanner
In order to optimize your curriculum development and develop best practices for designing for remote learning you’ll need to get comfortable with hardware as well as software. Familiarize yourself with tools and resources that are available to learners working across both Mac and Windows platforms as well across laptops, tablets and different mobile devices.
6. Have a Passion for Lifelong Learning
More than anything, you should enjoy the process of learning and curriculum design and be eager to study new techniques, develop new skills and explore new theories. As you’re the one designing the educational materials, you’ll need to be “ahead of the curve” with regard to curriculum content and how it’s delivered. If you enjoy continuous learning, then this is a great career option.
Curriculum Designer Salary and Career Outlook
Curriculum designers can expect to earn an average salary that ranges from $57,923 to $64,467 a year, depending on experience and industry. Being a curriculum designer can also make you eligible for similar roles that have comparable salaries, including:
- Librarian and library media specialist – $60,820
- Instructional coordinator – $66,970
- Training and development specialist – $62,700
The career outlook for curriculum designers is good across both higher education and private corporations. As of September 2021, universities hiring for curriculum designer positions include:
- Northwestern University
- UNC of Chapel Hill
- New York University
- SUNY at Buffalo
- UC Berkeley
HigherEdJobs also posts listings for curriculum design positions. Outside of education, examples of companies and corporations hiring for curriculum designers include:
- Amazon Web Services
- City National Bank
- eSpark Learning
- The AI Education Project
Curriculum Designer Career Resources
For aspiring curriculum designers who are interested in exclusively working on curriculum, consider searching for a credentialing program for the area that you’d like to work in. If you’d like to be in education, you can look up credentialing requirements and supporting resources through some of the following sites:
- Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)
- American Association for Teaching & Curriculum (AATC)
- National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC)
For those who have some curriculum design experience and want to expand into learning design, the University of San Diego has launched an innovative, online Master of Science in Learning Design and Technology degree program that is designed to meet the needs of aspiring learning designers.
Our program, delivered in a fully online format that is ideal for working professionals, places strong emphasis on all parts of instructional design. Students will work through determining the scope and sequence of curriculum content, including:
- Interviewing clients, target audiences and SMEs to determine learning needs
- Curating materials provided by SMEs to design curriculum
- Analyzing curriculum content to decide which areas are to be covered
Throughout the MS-LDT program, our students work to build a peer-evaluated online portfolio that showcases instructional design skills and projects, including curriculum design, as a showcase for employers when applying for new positions or promotions.
If you’re interested in curriculum development as a part of the learning design process, then take a look at what we have to offer.
FAQs About Curriculum Design
What industries are hiring curriculum designers?
First and foremost – education. All areas of education, from primary up through post-graduate programs are looking for dedicated professionals who can design curriculum. Private companies in the educational space, such as eSpark and Amazon, are also looking for curriculum designers to aid in their different education initiatives.
Large organizations and corporations usually post listings for instructional or learning designers to fill positions for their training initiatives, though some positions may specify curriculum design experience.
Where can I study to become a curriculum designer?
You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in education or learning design to start, and from there it depends on your goals. Teaching at a primary through high school level will require local accreditation, which differs from state to state. Finding a position in higher education or in private industry will likely require a master’s degree from a program that specializes in curriculum development.
Can I become a curriculum designer if I don’t have teaching experience?
It is possible, though additional experience will always make you a more attractive candidate to employers. If you have a lot of experience in developing resources like text books, lesson plans or creating digital resources – as well as a portfolio to showcase it – then you could find a position without having prior teaching experience.