Curriculum Design & Instructional Design: Independent, yet intertwined.

                Curriculum design and instructional design are independent, yet unavoidably intertwined. A plethora of information is available on both and too expansive to be covered in depth in this brief reflection. Instead, I will discuss some of the core differences and interesting points I have learned and attempt to express the correlation in a graphic model.

                Curriculum design, irrespective of instructional design, is explained by Petrina to be “much more than scope and sequence”. While encompassing more than these rudimentary aspects, all curriculum design should mature from first purposefully arranging objectives and values, pedagogically, to strengthen scaffolding and schema building. Not unlike instructional designs, curriculum designs also have theoretical orientations. Petrina’s terse synopsis of five major orientations is insightful and deserves citation,

“A consensus in curriculum theory formed around five orientations to organizing curriculum: academic rationalism, cognitive processes, self-actualization, social reconstruction, and utilitarianism (Eisner and Vallance’s, 1974). Academic rationalist orientations are primarily about disciplinary knowledge and cultural canons. Cognitive process orientations are primarily about intellectual reasoning skills such as problem solving. Self-actualization, or personal relevance, orientations stress psychological conditions and are concerned with individuality and personal expression. Social reconstruction, generally called critical pedagogy, stresses sociological conditions, social justice and collective reform. Utilitarian orientations are primarily concerned with functional competencies, performance, procedure and instructional efficiency. Curriculum designs are conceptually grounded in any one or a mix of these orientations.”

                Petrina later discusses an alternative view to curriculum design that recognizes three orientations related to communication: transmissive, transactive, and transformative. Respectively, the transmission of information occurring within these three orientations is teacher to student, bidirectional, and student to teacher. Various degrees of value exist within each of these sets depending upon the specific lesson being delivered. Recognizing this, the curriculum designer should understand and be able to apply elements from all orientations to best effect the desired outcomes.

                While Petrina’s paper in sum is intuitive, I disagree with his stance that curriculum and instructional design are synonymous. Contributing factors to the what of learning are not exactly the same as those for the how of learning. This is where a fundamental difference, despite significant interdependence, exists between curriculum design and instructional design.

                Instructional design is focused on the how of learning. Whether relying upon subject matter experts or predesigned curriculum, it continues to hinge upon learning objectives, values, and pedagogy. The salient difference from curriculum design is an amplified focus on learners and their needs. Such determinations may come from formative assessments of preexisting knowledge within the scope of the curriculum coupled with a familiarity of current and emerging trends in generational cohort preferences. While various technologies may be used to improve efficiency, the purpose is increased engagement and relevance. Perhaps oversimplified, curriculum design contributes education and instructional design contributes entertainment to what, collectively, should result in “edutainment”.


Petrina, S. (n.d.) Curriculum and instruction for technology teachers. Retrieved from


Nicholas S. Favazzo, 2013

Nicholas S. Favazzo is graduate student in the Educational Technology MA Program at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, FL.


2 responses to “Curriculum Design & Instructional Design: Independent, yet intertwined.

  1. Pingback: Exploring Instructional Designs | Ms. Richie's Blog·

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