Curriculum & Instruction Degrees: PhD, Master & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a curriculum and instruction degree program? Read about curriculum and instruction degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree or PhD and potential careers.
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Study Curriculum and Instruction: Master's and PhD Degrees at a Glance

A graduate degree program in curriculum and instruction is primarily designed for educators of all academic levels (from kindergarten to college) who already have bachelor's degrees and some teaching experience. A master's or PhD program in curriculum and instruction will prepare you to take on leadership roles in the educational system. People with an interest in instructional design, corporate training or adult education may also find this type of program beneficial.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), teaching positions at the kindergarten through 8th grade levels are expected to grow at an average rate of 17% from 2010 to 2020. High school teaching positions are expected to grow by only 7% during this same time frame. Jobs for instructional coordinators are expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 20% from 2010 to 2020.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Academic or corporate educators who want to further develop their instructional design skills Individuals who want to work as university professors, administrators or researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate average annual salary) - Elementary School Teacher ($55,000)*
- Middle School Teacher ($56,000)*
- High School Teacher ($57,000)*
- Instructional Coordinator ($62,000)*
- Training and Development Manager ($99,000)*
- Elementary, Middle or High School Principal ($90,000)*
- University Professor ($74,000)*
- Top Executive (includes university presidents and school superintendents - $177,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time, 4-6 years part-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 30-42 credit hours
- Capstone project or thesis
- Exit exam
- 60-66 credit hours
- PhD exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree in any field (some programs require a bachelor's degree in the specific subject area of emphasis)
- GPA of 3.0 or greater
- Master's degree in education or a related field
- GPA of 3.0 or greater
Online Availability Yes Hybrid programs are available

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Curriculum and Instruction

Students in a master's program for curriculum and instruction learn the fundamentals of curriculum theory and development. At most universities, the Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in curriculum and instruction is a not an initial licensure program. Graduates who do not already hold a teaching license must take additional courses and meet any additional requirements of their state in order to obtain such licensing.

Students in this program can select from a wide variety of specializations, including corporate education, international education, educational technology or a specific academic subject area, such as math, reading or physical education. Licensed teachers can also select an emphasis in special education or take courses to prepare for master teacher certification.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You will be eligible for a variety of teaching positions, including some at the college level
  • Many schools offer higher compensation for teachers with advanced degrees
  • A master's degree is often required for other non-teaching positions, such as instructional coordinator or school principal

Cons

  • Students with full-time teaching jobs may find it hard to balance the coursework required in a graduate program with work responsibilities
  • Though some master's programs offer curriculum and instruction degrees with an emphasis in corporate education, such a degree is not necessary to obtain employment in employee training and development
  • Many programs require a practicum or internship that can be difficult to make time for if you are already employed

Common Courses and Requirements

Course requirements will vary depending on the area of emphasis that you select. It is common that you'll need to take courses in your academic emphasis area, such as reading, writing, math or science. You'll typically also have the option to complete an original research project or written thesis. Some programs require a practicum or internship. A possible practicum for this program might be to design a sample curriculum for a selected audience, such as a high school classroom or corporate training program. A comprehensive exit exam is also often required in a master's degree program.

Other courses that are typical of a master's degree program in curriculum and instruction include:

  • Learning Theory
  • Instructional Design
  • Educational Technology
  • Classroom Management
  • Curriculum Planning

Online Degree Options

Online programs that offer a master's degree in curriculum and instruction are very common. Many of these programs are offered in accelerated formats, with classes held in 4-8 week blocks. In an accelerated program, students take one class at a time. Online programs offer the same courses that campus-based programs do.

Stand Out with this Degree

Trends in education change frequently so it is important to take additional continuing education courses to stay current in your field. It is also a good idea to join a professional organization, such as the National Education Association (NEA) for teachers or the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) for corporate educators. These organizations keep members informed of new technologies, trends or changes within their career fields. Membership in a professional organization also shows potential employers that you are interested in and involved with the education community. Membership benefits can include access to publications, networking opportunities and professional development activities. The ASTD also offers the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) credential, which could help you further stand out.

PhD in Curriculum and Instruction

The focus of a PhD program in curriculum and instruction is on educational theory and how the design, application and evaluation of various teaching strategies affect learning. This program is best suited for individuals who have strong interests in pursuing academic research in the field of education. For those who want to teach or work in administrative positions, an Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction may be a better option.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A PhD can qualify you for high-level academic positions where it is possible to shape and reform educational policy
  • Unemployment for PhD holders is low (2.5% vs. 7.6% average overall unemployment in March 2012)*
  • Salaries for PhD holders are generally higher than those of master's degree holders (median weekly earnings for PhD holders was almost $1,600 in March 2012 vs. nearly $1,300 for master's degree holders)*

Cons

  • Pursuing a PhD requires a minimum of 3 years of rigorous study
  • Job opportunities for school superintendents, university presidents and other top executives in this field are expected to have slower-than-average growth rate from 2010 to 2020 (expected growth = 5%)*
  • Some schools require prior teaching experience before a candidate can apply for a PhD program

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Earning a PhD in curriculum and instruction most often involves 36-45 hours of coursework and seminars and 12-15 hours of dissertation research and preparation. Most programs will also require you to complete a supervised doctoral internship, as well as to present and defend your dissertation.

There are 2-3 exams required of all PhD candidates throughout their course of study. A qualifying or competency exam is usually taken after completing 12-15 hours of post-master's level coursework. Sometimes, a second preliminary exam could help you determine the focus of your dissertation. The final exam is usually taken when you have completed most of the research for your dissertation.

These courses are common in a curriculum and instruction PhD program:

  • Research Methods
  • Human Learning
  • Educational Statistics
  • Curriculum Theory

Online Degree Options

PhD and Ed.D. programs are commonly found in both classroom and online formats, though online programs are usually hybrid programs that require some face-to-face sessions. These sessions can last for several weeks and are usually held during the summer.

Stand Out with this Degree

Universities, school districts and other potential employers are more eager to hire graduates who demonstrate leadership abilities. One way to showcase your leadership skills is to become a mentor to other teachers. Use what you have learned to help guide other educators to make a more positive impact in the classroom. Continually review educational policies and procedures and offer input and solutions to the problems faced by the educational community. The Internet is a growing medium for education, so stay current on new theories in online education, as well as new trends in learning technology.

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