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Instructional Design

Understanding Instructional Design vs Curriculum Development in eLearning

Learn about the differences between instructional design vs curriculum development in eLearning.

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By Dr. Mohsin Raza

instructional design vs curriculum development

Imagine a world plunged into the depths of a pandemic, where the hallways of educational institutions echo with emptiness, and the hallowed lecture halls remain eerily quiet. In this unforeseen crisis, when the traditional mode of classroom education became an impossibility, the education landscape underwent a remarkable transformation. Within a matter of weeks, schools and universities pivoted to a digital paradigm, embracing the virtual realm to ensure the continuity of learning.

During the turbulent time of pandemic, I had the privilege of joining an award-winning edTech organization that had been pioneering the digitalization of education for five years. As an instructional designer, I was thrust into the heart of a revolution, where the traditional classroom experience met the digital frontier. It was here that I came to understand the profound importance of two essential pillars of learning:

  1. Instructional design
  2. Curriculum development

The world of education, always in a state of flux, suddenly demanded a deeper understanding of these two fundamental concepts. The transition from brick-and-mortar classrooms to virtual platforms made it abundantly clear that not only did we need a roadmap for what to teach (curriculum development), but also an effective way of delivering it in a virtual environment (instructional design). In the absence of physical presence, which many educators had grown accustomed to, instructional design took center stage in crafting engaging and effective online learning experiences.

To gain insight into the key differences between the two and to understand their meanings, the following account aims to draw a comparison between instructional design vs curriculum development by answering key questions:

  • What is the fundamental meaning of the two?
  • What are the underlying objectives behind each?
  • Who are the subjects of each?
  • What role does each play in teaching and learning?
  • What methods does each incorporate in the current era of learning (especially e- learning) and distance learning?

The Meanings of Instructional Design & Curriculum Development

Instructional Design (ID): Instructional design is like the architect of education. Think of it as the process that goes into designing a state-of-the-art, user-friendly app. Just as app designers carefully plan how users will navigate through an application and interact with its features, instructional designers meticulously map out how students will navigate through a course or module, interact with content, and ultimately, learn. For instance, in creating an online physics course, instructional designers may design interactive simulations that allow students to experiment with virtual physics experiments, engaging them in a hands-on learning experience.

Curriculum Development: Curriculum development is akin to planning a cross-country road trip. Imagine you’re responsible for planning a family road trip from coast to coast. You’d need to decide what cities to visit, the order of the stops, and what sights and attractions to see along the way. This planning process, similar to curriculum development, involves deciding what subjects will be covered, in what sequence, and what materials and resources will be used. For instance, a curriculum developer for a history course might decide to cover ancient civilizations before moving on to the world wars, carefully structuring the students’ historical journey.

Underlying Objectives

Instructional Design: The primary goal of instructional design is to formulate engaging learning experiences effectively. Instructional designers optimize learning by structuring content, selecting appropriate delivery methods, and aligning assessments with learning goals. The focus is on pedagogical teaching methodology principles to enhance the learning process.

Curriculum Development: The primary objective of curriculum development, on the other hand, is to design what the learner needs to learn during the entire academic session or program. The essential elements include defining the scope, sequencing topics, ensuring the achievement of planned outcomes, and aligning the syllabus with academic standards and objectives.

Target Audience of These Activities

Instructional Design: The key target of the instructional design process is the learner. This process focuses on creating resources and approaches that are learner-centered. Instructional Design professionals take into account the needs, priorities, and, above all, the abilities of the specific audience to create an efficient set of instructions. They strive to engage and support learners in their individual learning journeys, tailoring content and methods to meet their unique needs.

Curriculum Development: Curriculum development encompasses a broader audience, including students, teachers, educational administrators, and policymakers. It pays homage to the needs of educational institutions and the larger education system, ensuring alignment with broader educational goals. Most curriculum development activities, therefore, involve crucial participation from governmental bodies, aiming to establish a cohesive and standardized framework for education that benefits all stakeholders and serves the broader educational ecosystem.

Role of Each in Learning and Teaching

Instructional Design: Instructional designers play a crucial role in improving the teaching and learning process by creating dynamic and effective learning materials. These materials, such as eLearning modules, interactive simulations, or instructional videos, are instrumental in educators’ efforts to facilitate meaningful learning experiences for their students. Instructional designers empower teachers with the tools and resources they need to deliver content effectively and engage their learners, ultimately enhancing the overall quality of education.

Curriculum Development: Curriculum developers provide the foundational structure and materials that guide the entire educational session, whether it be a program or course. They meticulously outline what should be taught, when it should be taught, and how it aligns with larger educational goals. Instructors rely on the curriculum as a roadmap to organize their teaching and deliver instruction. Curriculum developers ensure that the educational content is comprehensive, well-organized, and in accordance with established educational standards, thereby setting the stage for effective teaching practices and a consistent learning experience for all students.

Currently Utilized Methodologies in the eLearning Horizon

In the rapidly evolving landscape of eLearning, both instructional design and curriculum development have adapted to technology-driven learning environments, enabling more effective and engaging educational experiences. Here are some key methodologies and approaches associated with each field:

Instructional Design Models & Methodologies

ADDIE Model: One of the most widely used ID models is ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation). It closely resembles the commonly known PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, and Act) cycle. However, ADDIE focuses on enhancing the learning experience. For example, in the context of a language learning app, an instructional designer might use the ADDIE model to analyze the needs of language learners, design interactive lessons, develop engaging content, implement these lessons in the app, and evaluate their effectiveness by tracking users’ progress.

Blended Learning: Blended learning combines in-person and online teaching methods to maximize learning outcomes. It recognizes the importance of both traditional classroom experiences and the advantages of eLearning. For instance, in a university course, blended learning may involve students attending lectures in person and then using an online platform to engage in discussions, access resources, and complete assignments.

Microlearning: Microlearning involves delivering small, bite-sized segments of content to learners. It is particularly effective in the era of short attention spans and on-the-go learning. For instance, in corporate training, employees may receive brief, focused micro-lessons via their mobile devices to quickly acquire specific skills or knowledge relevant to their roles.

Gamification: Gamification integrates game elements, such as points, badges, and competition, into the learning process. This approach enhances engagement and motivation. In K-12 education, a gamified math app could award points for correctly solving math problems, allowing students to compete with peers and earn rewards, making the learning experience more enjoyable and competitive.

Adaptive Learning: Adaptive learning systems, based on machine learning, personalize the learning experience for individual students. These systems use data and algorithms to adjust the content to match each learner’s abilities and pace. For example, in a high school science course, an adaptive learning platform may provide additional resources or more challenging assignments to students who grasp concepts quickly, while offering additional support to those who need it, ensuring that every student can progress at their own speed.

Curriculum Development in eLearning

Standards Alignment: Curriculum developers ensure that eLearning content aligns with educational standards and expected learning outcomes. They create courses that adhere to specific learning standards and benchmarks. For instance, in an online professional certification program, curriculum developers would ensure that the course content meets industry standards, ensuring that graduates are well-prepared for their careers.

Sequencing and Pacing: Curriculum developers define the sequence of instructions and the pace at which learners progress through the content. In an eLearning platform designed for self-paced language learning, curriculum developers determine the order in which language skills are introduced, as well as the speed at which learners advance through lessons, providing flexibility based on individual progress.

Learner Pathways: Curriculum developers may design multiple pathways for learners to follow, allowing for more customized learning experiences. These pathways can be tailored to different learning goals or abilities. In a higher education program, students pursuing different majors may follow unique pathways with specialized courses and learning experiences, ensuring relevance to their chosen fields.

Competency-Based Education: Curriculum development often incorporates competency-based learning. This approach allows learners to advance by demonstrating their proficiency in specific skills and knowledge. In a vocational training program, students might complete modules and assessments at their own pace, moving on to new content when they have mastered the required competencies.

Data-Driven Insights: Curriculum developers make use of data analysis to assess the effectiveness of the curriculum. This data aids in refining and improving the curriculum to become compatible with the varying needs of learners. For instance, in a corporate training program, curriculum developers may use data on employee performance to refine the training materials and adapt to changing skill requirements within the organization.

Other Differences Between Instructional Design and Curriculum Development

Scope and Scale: While the instructional design process typically deals with the design of individual learning sessions, modules, or lessons, curriculum development aims for a broader scope, encompassing the design of complete educational programs or courses, serving a more comprehensive and long-term educational vision.

Flexibility: Curriculum development prioritizes maintaining consistency and alignment with educational standards, with limited room for deviation. In contrast, instructional design offers flexibility in designing engaging and interactive methods and mediums for learning, adapting to the dynamic needs of learners and the evolving education landscape.

Stakeholders: Curriculum development has a broader goal of shaping the mindset of learners to meet the societal needs, involving stakeholders at every level of the education system, from teachers and administrators to policymakers and state authorities. In contrast, instructional design is specifically focused on collaboration with educators and learners to enhance the immediate learning experience.

Continuous Improvement: Both curriculum design and instructional design are iterative processes, but they differ in their frequency of change. Instructional design may adapt in a relatively short span, sometimes even from one class to the next, while curriculum development undergoes revision at less frequent intervals, often spanning a decade or longer.

Final Thoughts

Instructional design and curriculum development are two vital components of the education and eLearning landscape. While they share common goals and methodologies, they have distinct purposes and roles.

Instructional design revolves around creating engaging and tailored learning experiences for individual learners, while curriculum development provides the overarching structure and content for entire educational programs and courses.

Both fields have embraced technology and data-driven insights to become more adaptable and responsive to the ever-changing needs of learners and educational institutions.

Understanding the differences between instructional design and curriculum development, as well as recognizing their complementary nature, is essential for creating successful and impactful eLearning experiences. Together, they contribute to a holistic approach to education that empowers learners, equips educators, and ensures the alignment of educational content with broader societal and educational goals. This synergy between instructional design and curriculum development is the cornerstone of effective and innovative education in the digital age.

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