Ministry Resources

Introduction to Curriculum and Instructional Design

Author: David Martz

Introduction to Curriculum and Instructional Design

The word disciple denotes instructed in Hebrew and learner in Greek. The Scriptures are replete with texts that reveal God as Teacher and Jesus as the Great Teacher. Although teaching and learning have similar goals, teaching is not a guarantee that learning has or is taking place. Individual intelligence, motivation, readiness to learn, prior learning, learning needs, learning styles, and aptitude are all essential to the learning process. An important factor to consider in instructional design is whether learning will be structured on short-, long-, or life-long learning.

Learning is a constant. People are constantly learning skills, content, competencies, and behaviors that add value and meaning to their lives. Instruction occurs when learning is structured by a learning facilitator in order to produce specific outcomes. The learning facilitator faces a challenge that can be successful with the direction of the Holy Spirit, knowledge of the learner, understanding of the learning process, and a mastery of subject-content.

What is instruction? The concept of instruction, which has been traditionally “teacher-” or “content-” centered, is concerned with “learning” structures, processes, systems, environment, content, application, and behavior. The nature of the term instruction depends on the educator’s philosophical and theoretical orientation. Some of the major educational philosophies (Ornstein & Hunkins, 1993) behind instructional design models include perennialism, essentialism, progressivism, and reconstructionism.

Three educational theories that have influenced education during the twentieth century were behaviorism, cognitive, and humanism models. Behaviorism was championed by Thorndike, Watson, and Skinner, and dominated education over the first half of the twentieth century. Behaviorism was based on empirical scientific research. Behavioral learning models focused on observable behavior, reinforcement of behavior, and the effect of the environment on learning. Cognitive theory, which was championed by Piaget and Gardner, was concerned with the relationship of the learner and the environment, problem-solving, heredity, and how learning is processed. Humanistic theory, which was promoted by Maslow and Rogers, viewed learning from the standpoint of human growth and the development of the whole person. Humanistic theory was derived from Gestalt psychology. An emerging theory of education is andragogy, or adult learning. Andragogy focuses on self-direction, life-long learning, problem-solving, critical thinking, and the uniqueness of the adult learner (Knowles, 1990).

How is instruction different than instructional design? Instruction can be contrasted from curriculum design in several ways. First, instruction focuses on the process of content delivery or “how content is communicated.” Instructional design is concerned with the “what is communicated.” The nature of instruction is primarily “process-oriented” while curriculum design is “content-oriented.” Second, instruction necessitates a need for accountability in order to validate the learner’s progress toward specific objectives. Third, instruction focuses on the communicative, social, and interactive nature of learning while curriculum design focuses on the development of higher cognitive skills and the application of content. It should be noted that the term method, which addresses “how” content is delivered, is often linked to cultural practices, tradition, and teacher-competencies while curriculum design procedures are primarily rooted in empirically substantiated principles.

What is curriculum? The term curriculum (Kemp, Morrison, & Ross, 1994, p. 3) refers to “the subject content and skills that comprise an education program.” Curriculum is highly dependent on the socio-cultural, and philosophical factors that impact both the educational institution and the community. A curriculum may focus on personal development, training, or specific skills. The concept of curriculum is often used synonymously with the term program, or as the subject-content for a concentration or course within an academic concentration.

The Instructional Design Specialist

The task of the instructional design specialist can be broken down into the following categories: (a) specification of learning outcomes in terms of student competencies and performance (Gronlund, 1995); (b) determination of individual and group learning characteristics, styles, and modes (Kolb, 1984 & Witkin, 1976); (c) organization of structured learning activities (Kirkpatrick, 1984); (d) selection of technological methodologies (McKeachie, 1994);(e) definition of an appropriate learning environment for the learning process (Imel, 1995); (f) articulation of criteria for assessing the learning processes and outcomes (see Moran, 1997); (g) development of mechanisms and processes for monitoring learning activities (Brookfield, 1986); (h) conceptualization of a strategy to pro-actively resolve conflicts in the learning process (McKeachie, 1994); and (i) creation of a change and renewal strategy to keep the instructional design relevant, practical, and academically valid (Kemp, 1994). Ideally, the instructional design specialist should work closely with a subject matter expert (SME), a technology advisor, and the course instructor. The instructional design specialist can optimize his or her product by working as a part of an academic team that focuses on the uniqueness of the learner within a context.

The instructional design specialist may also work with the learning facilitator and student to negotiate learning contracts (Knowles, 1990). Learning contracts are collaborative contracts with individual or groups of learners with a specified context.

Process of Instructional Design

According to Kem, et al., a major goal of instructional design (ID) is “how to plan, develop, evaluate, and mange the instructional process effectively so that it will ensure competent performance by students.” An ID approach should focus the product around the unique needs, learning, and competencies of the learner. The five primary factors to consider in ID include the learner, methodology, objectives, assessment, and the learning context. In the pre-ID phase, consideration should be made concerning the learners thinking orientation, e.g., circular or linear; instructional resources; the sequence of content; and the learner’s ability to assimilate information. In highly technological societies learners tend to be adapted to assimilating a large volume of information in a short time period and to comprehend multiple concepts, e.g. four or five at once. Learners who live in non-technological regions may not have developed skills to assimilate a large amount of content over a short period or to comprehend more than two or three concepts at once. These factors should be considered in the design of instruction within cross-cultural contexts.

Kemp (1994) relates nine elements in an elliptical instructional design process. Although instruction design normally begins at the course development stage, the instructional designer could begin the design process with any element depending on the need and instructional paradigm. The steps are as follows: (a) assess instructional resources, (b) define the instructional problems, (c) identify learner characteristics, (d) perform a task analysis, (e) articulate instructional objectives, (f) sequence content, (g) design instructional strategies, (h) construct instructional delivery technologies and methods, and (i) create assessment instruments. It should be noted that Kemp et al., model emphasizes the interrelated nature of the design process while keeping the instruction flexible enough to be easily revised.

Instruction and instructional design should be concerned with both content and the learning process. A consensus of educators concur that there is no “ideal” way to instruct, design instruction, or to learn. This is why the instructor, instructional design specialist, subject-matter specialist and instructional technologist should focus on the uniqueness of the learner(s), the learning context, and instructional resources. In some cases, a fifth individual or “evaluator” may be incorporated into the instruction design team. In cross-cultural Bible colleges, all five roles may need to be filled by one or two individuals. The writer suggests that in cases where personnel are scarce, the instructor could collaborate with the academic dean, other instructors, or consult with experts from other educational institutions.

Assessing the Learning Context

Assessment of the learning context may reveal unique learning needs, problems, resources, or culturally-specific information that could influence the learning process. The most frequently utilized assessment is called a “needs assessment.” The needs assessment collects data about a specific learning sample or group; analyses data in order to identify current needs, or to make projections; and to suggests a specific strategy for action. An educational needs assessment may incorporate a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) evaluation, a task analysis, a cross-cultural audit, or a trend analysis to identify specific learning needs or problems. Many academic assessments utilize Likert-scale surveys that rank responses from one to five or seven. The results of the scores can then be measured and converted in percentages or ratios to produce an educational profile. The writer cautions that empirical assessments should be considered in addition to personal input, interviews, historical documentation, and focus groups.

Selecting Instructional Content

The task analysis (Kemp et al., 1994) is the most critical element in the IT process. The function of a task analysis is described as follows: (a) to define the content in order to address a performance need or problem, (b) to encourage the subject-matter expert to work through each instructional step, and (c) to view the content from the learners paradigm (Jonassen, Hannum, & Tessmer, 1989). The objectives of the task analysis are to define the instructional problem and to understand the learner’s background and knowledge of a specific topic. Specific methods for conducing a task analysis may include the following: (a) a topic analysis, which researches the selected content and structure of content; (b) a procedural analysis, which identifies specific steps for accomplishing the instructional objectives; (c) and the critical incident method that seeks to identify and understand interpersonal skills and attitudes by means of interviews. Information can be collected by means of a review of literature, interviews with subject-matter experts or cross-cultural experts, or through scenarios and simulations. The function of research data is to provide the ID team with relevant and contextual information about an appropriate content, strategy, and the variables or factors that may impact the learning process.

Assessing Learning Styles

Individual learning can be assessed in a number of ways. Dunn and Dunn , Felder and Silverman, Kolb, Gregoric; Witkin and Goodenough; and Myers and Briggs have developed learning style instruments to help learners and learning facilitators identify and optimize individual learning style, modalities, and preferences. Learning styles focus on how learners perceive and process information. Learning modalities are often described as learner preferences toward audio, visual, or kinesthetic learning strategies. Learning preferences are individual attitudes toward physical, social, or environmental learning conditions. Witkin and Goodenough (1981) relate that learners may also be field-dependent or field-independent. They state that field-dependent learners prefer a more structured learning experience and social reinforcement. Field-independent learners tend to be more self-directed, prefer to work alone, and enjoy prefer to have input into their own instructional program. Learning style assessments can be useful to the instructional design team in the development of instructional delivery strategies. It should be noted that differences also exist in “thinking styles,” which could influence how content and learning activities are structured and evaluated.


Instructional design specialists are often instructors or professionals who develop educational “packages” for academic or workplace applications. The current trend is to view instructional design as a team effort of several individuals who are involved in the educational process, i.e., subject-matter expert (SME), instructional design specialist, technology advisor, learning facilitator, and a cross-cultural advisor. The curriculum development process, which was once viewed as highly “behavioral” and linear, is being replaced by new models such as the one proposed by Kemp et al., that focuses on the interrelationship of instructional design elements and the uniqueness of the individual learner. The utilization of data from empirical assessments is also becoming popular to assist the ID with make decisions regarding appropriate content, instructional delivery, methodologies, and assessments.

As educators face the a millenium, new educational methodologies will be developed on the basis of empirical research and the needs of learners. Curriculum design teams should be encouraged to integrate new technologies and resources in order to remain effective and relevant within a context. The writer adds that change should be expected and approached proactively by educators in ways that address the changing educational needs with sound principles of educational integrity and professionalism.


About the Author David Martz, Ed.D is a foreign missionary with the Assemblies of God. His doctoral concentration was in the field of adult education. David is the author of Practical Learning Theory and Strategies: A Handbook for Christian Educators. References Brookfield, S. D. (1986). Understanding and facilitating adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Corey, S. M. (1967). The nature of instruction. Programmed Instruction. In the NSSE Yearbook (Vol. 66, Part II). Chicago press. Gronlund, N. E. (1995). How to write and use instructional objectives. (5th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NY: Prentice Hall. Imel, S. (1995). Inclusive adult learning environments. (Report No. 162). Columbus, Oh: Center on Education ad Training for Employment. (ERIC document Reproduction Service No. EDO-CE-95-162) Jonassen, D., Hannum, W., & Tessmer, M. (1989). Handbook of task analysis procedures. New York, NY: Praeger. Kemp, J. E., Morrison, G. R., & Ross, S. M. (1994). Designing effective instruction. New York, NY: Macmillan. Kirkpatrick, D. L. (1984). Program design and development. Elm Grove, WI: D. L. Kirkpatrick. Knowles, M. (1990). The adult learner: A neglected species. (4th ed.). Houston, TX: Gulf. Martz, D. R. (2002). Practical learning theory and strategies: A handbook for Christian educators. Springfield, MO. Life. McKeachie, W. J. (1994). Teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. (9th ed.). Lexington, MA: D. C. Health. Moran, J. J. (1997). Assessing adult learning: A guide for practitioners. Malabar, FL: Krieger. Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. (1993). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and theory. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. Witkin, H. A. (1976). Cognitive style in academic performance and in teacher-student relations. In S. Messick (Ed.). Individually in learning (pp. 38-72). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Witkin, H. & Goodenough, D. (1981). Cognitive styles: Essence and origins. New York, NY: International University Press.

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