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What is curriculum and instruction in education?

African American male teacher smiling and holding documents

This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.

This article was reviewed by Pamela M. Roggeman, EdD, Dean of the College of Education

At a glance

The field of education is supported by two main pillars: curriculum and instruction. Curriculum is the material taught to students in a school or educational program. Instruction refers to methods and strategies to teach that material. These two components work together to create an educational environment that is both standardized (in terms of what is taught) and individualized (in terms of how the students learn).

There are many theories surrounding curriculum and instruction, many of which are taught in education programs, including Master of Arts in Education degrees. By learning about these different approaches to education, teachers can choose an effective instructional method and improve their students’ learning experience.

Purposes of curriculum and instruction

Curriculum and instruction have two different purposes. The curriculum ensures students gain specific knowledge and skills. States establish a list of standards that each K­–12 school’s curriculum should encompass to ensure students are at an appropriate level of learning.

While the curriculum is consistent across schools and classrooms, instruction can be individualized. Students have different learning styles and needs, and many teachers respond accordingly with various instructional methods. 

Components of a curriculum

Instructional coordinators develop a curriculum by determining the product component and the process component. The product component is based on the final product. This means that grades and test results are used to determine if students have learned the material. Essentially, it measures how well students absorbed the lesson and keeps track of whether they are meeting expectations of their grade level.

The process component, meanwhile, focuses on how a student’s learning develops over time. A variety of instructional methods can influence the process component. Both components are important to developing a well-rounded curriculum.

A curriculum is based on extensive educational research, the input of the state and local educational standards, and the type of school. Once a curriculum is established, students in the same grade at the same school are taught the same material, no matter which teacher they have. 

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Types of instructional methods

In the world of K–12 education, teachers can choose from several types of instructional methods. In fact, it’s rare to find a teacher who uses one instructional method exclusively. Many teachers have a preferred method but will incorporate other methods to accommodate all their students.

It’s important to understand that instruction is not a one-size-fits-all practice. Teaching with multiple methods helps students with different learning styles[1]  get the most out of their learning experiences.

Lecture-based instruction

The lecture-based instruction method is the traditional classroom model many people are familiar with. With this method, the teacher stands at the front of the classroom and delivers a lesson. A visual presentation or notes on a whiteboard, chalkboard or interactive board typically accompany the lecture.

The lecture method has been shown to have a positive impact on students’ immediate knowledge retention, and many teachers regularly give lectures. It cultivates listening skills in students while also encouraging the development of note-taking proficiency and the ability to ask questions to deepen understanding.

Hands-on learning

Hands-on learning involves students developing knowledge through practical experience. Instead of listening to a lecture on a chemical reaction, for example, a student might experiment under a teacher’s guidance. Or, instead of reading Hamlet and listening to a lecture, students may produce the play themselves in their classroom.

Hands-on learning strives to teach students in the moment and how to learn for the rest of their lives. Hands-on learning is a newer technique than the lecture-based approach, but many teachers have seen benefits when pairing the two approaches.

Link to “How Future Leaders Can Benefit From Understanding Different Learning Styles” once published.

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How to become a curriculum and instruction specialist

While teachers need to know quite a bit about curriculum and instruction, curriculum and instruction specialists also provide specialized knowledge and training to teachers.

Curriculum and instruction specialists, also known as instructional coordinators, work to develop the curriculum at a school. They guide teachers about best practices and offer improvements to their methods.

Master of Arts in Education/Curriculum and Instruction

To become an instructional coordinator, such as a curriculum director or an instructional designer, a Master of Arts in Education/Curriculum and Instruction and, in some states, mandatory, state-issued licenses can provide the necessary foundation.

A master’s degree in education that teaches curriculum and instruction conveys several important skills for these roles, including:

  • Developing curriculum assessment abilities
  • Using research to employ best practices in the classroom
  • Integrating new technology into lessons to engage students
  • Coaching teachers in a way that can positively affect learning outcomes
  • Understanding the ethical, social and political issues in education they may encounter regularly

A curriculum and instruction graduate program helps education professionals develop expertise to have a positive impact on their school and their students. 

What skills are necessary for this field?

Curriculum and instruction specialists need a wide range of skills to be successful in their roles. These include hard skills, such as in-depth knowledge of analytical, communication, decision-making, interpersonal and leadership skills.

However, these specialists also depend on soft skills. Curriculum and instruction specialists often work directly with teachers to improve students’ learning experience. It’s important to have skills such as compassion and patience.

Salary expectations for curriculum and instruction specialists

As of May 2021, a curriculum and instruction specialist (also known as an instructional coordinator) earned an annual salary ranging between $38,390 and $101,090, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A variety of factors can impact salary, including years of experience and level of education.

The job outlook for this position has a projected growth rate of 7% from 2021 to 2031, according to BLS. That’s an estimated 20,900 expected openings each year.

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Earn a degree in education at University of Phoenix

If you’re eager to enter the field of curriculum and instruction specialists, University of Phoenix offers a master’s degree to help build your specialized knowledge and skill set. If you have a more general interest in education degrees, you can learn more about online education degrees and certificates through University of Phoenix.


Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!


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