Curriculum Development Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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

For those already working in education, earning an advanced degree in curriculum development may be a viable next step in career growth. Building on teaching education and experience, completing such a program can create opportunities for advancement into administration positions that give you the chance to shape not only the educational paths for individual students but to plan entire programs.

Curriculum development degrees are for licensed teachers looking to move into positions such as instructional coordinator, curriculum coordinator or into a position of educational leadership. People in an administrative position in this field guide curriculum as it changes shape in line with both mandated requirements and students' needs.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Teachers with a bachelor's degree and licensure who are looking for an advanced degree to build their careers Teachers who have already earned a master's degree who are looking for a terminal degree to build on their careers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Instructional coordinator ($59,000)*
- Secondary school teacher ($54,000)*
- Middle school teacher ($53,000)*
- Elementary school teacher ($53,000)*
- Postsecondary teacher ($59,000)*
- Education administrator ($87,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 6-8 graduate level courses
- Master's capstone project
- Master's exams
Roughly 4-6 graduate level courses beyond MA requirements
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation (equivalent to at least 4 courses)
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in teaching field with licensure courses
State teacher's license
Bachelor's or master's degree in teaching field
State teacher's license
Online Availability Yes A few may be available

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

Master's in Curriculum Development

For teaching professionals in some states, earning a master's in education is not just a career-building step but a requirement for maintaining a teaching credential. For others, it is a way to set them apart from other applicants when seeking promotion. It is also a way of developing additional skills, such as those a curriculum development program can provide, beyond basic state credentialing teaching requirements.

Curriculum development programs are often designed for working professionals, not just full-time students. This has led to some schools providing online programs to address the challenges of meshing an educational program with an already busy schedule.

Pros and Cons


  • May fulfill credentialing requirements in some states
  • Helps teachers grow in their current jobs
  • Allows for transition into administration positions


  • Because a master's degree is sometimes required for full state licensure, it may not always help applicants stand out the way it would if not a requirement
  • Even though it may take extra years of work, it may only be considered a stepping-stone to further education
  • Though this degree may help teachers enter administration, the higher administration positions may require an MEd or PhD in Educational Leadership

Common Courses and Requirements

The courses required for a master's in curriculum development may cover areas of research, curriculum and instruction. In addition to coursework, master's degree programs commonly require qualification or comprehensive exams, as well as a master's thesis, capstone project or other final project.

In a master's program, courses might cover such topics as:

  • Curriculum history and theory
  • Curriculum design
  • Education issues and ethics
  • Educational leadership
  • Educational research

Online Degree Options

For the working teacher looking to pursue a master's degree program, to meet credentialing requirements or to improve the chance for promotion, online master's degree programs in curriculum development that allow them to take classes while also working are available. As different states may have different requirements, and because primary, middle and secondary schools may have their own requirements as well, teachers should approach their administrators for recommendations as to which programs are most applicable, in addition to checking state requirements.

Stand Out with This Degree

Curriculum development master's degree programs may help to fulfill state credentialing requirements, but teachers who want to stand out should not stop with just that. Teachers should look for programs that fulfill any credentialing requirements necessary, but also seek out programs that both fit current needs in their districts and provide for career growth. All this must be balanced against accessibility (online programs may help with this) and the time needed to complete the coursework and research.

For teachers with an interest in entering school administration, coursework and research that link to future work in educational leadership may help develop skills required to make the jump to administration. Note that some states may require both a teaching credential and an educational administration credential for a position such as instructional coordinator.

PhD in Curriculum Development

Those who have already finished a master's degree in education and are looking to further their career can pursue this terminal degree program. Unlike a master's degree, this program requires original research in the form of a dissertation. The dissertation is a major project, which provides an original and significant contribution to the curriculum development field.

These PhD programs require significant investments of time and are usually targeted at working professionals. The research may link with specific areas of interest relevant to current educational duties.

Pros and Cons


  • This is the highest available degree in the education field
  • May lead to a promotion from your current position, including administrative positions
  • May be able to waive certain certain courses based on previous classes or experience or if the required competence is shown.


  • PhD programs require significant investment of time and energy for working professionals
  • If you have this degree but wish to move into an administration position, such as school principal, you may need to earn an additional degree.
  • Generally, PhD programs include original research as part of degree requirements

Courses and Requirements

In PhD programs in curriculum development, there is a balance between coursework that directly applies to the teaching environment and coursework that is designed to prepare candidates for their own dissertations. As these programs don't necessarily have the same open market of teachers looking to complete state credentialing requirements, and because these programs are also aimed for those looking to enter postsecondary instruction, more time is given over to research than in the more professionally-focused master's programs. However, course and seminar topics may include:

  • Research on teaching
  • Curriculum issues and trends
  • Curriculum and theories of instruction
  • Evaluating curricula
  • Multivariate analysis
  • Quantitative methods
  • Research methods

Online Degree Options

Perhaps because doctoral programs generally require that PhD candidates attend classes and work closely with their teachers, curriculum development PhD programs are only slowly reaching online formats. Nonetheless, with careful research, those interested in earning a PhD in curriculum development online may be able to find a program that fulfills their needs. They should do so with careful research and a keen eye to the accreditation and their own institutional needs.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Earning a doctorate in curriculum development can enhance a candidate's career or open a new one. Because of the hefty commitment that earning a PhD requires, selection of a program, as well as faculty advisor and research topic, can strengthen the value of the investment. Prior to enrollment, a careful examination of current trends in curriculum development research, which the candidate will hopefully soon be joining, may be of benefit. With the right experience and credentials, doctors may not just be employing their degrees, but guiding the research of others in the field.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Walden University

    Program Options

      • Doctor of Education (EdD) - Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment
      • PhD in Education - Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment & Evaluation
      • PhD in Education - Learning, Instruction & Innovation
      • Doctor of Education (EdD) - Early Childhood Education
      • Doctor of Education (EdD) - Educational Technology
      • PhD in Education - Educational Technology & Design
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

      • PhD in Education - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Ed.D. - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Ed.D. - General Education
      • Ed.D. - Instructional Leadership
      • Doctor of Education in Instructional Design
      • Doctor of Philsophy in Instructional Design
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

      • Education Specialist in Teaching and Learning
  • Logan, UT

    Utah State University

  • Mississippi State, MS

    Mississippi State University

  • Louisville, KY

    University of Louisville

  • Storrs, CT

    University of Connecticut

  • Chicago, IL

    DePaul University

  • Cedar Falls, IA

    University of Northern Iowa

Featured Schools

Walden University

  • Doctor of Education (EdD) - Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment
  • PhD in Education - Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment & Evaluation
  • PhD in Education - Learning, Instruction & Innovation

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Northcentral University

  • PhD in Education - Curriculum and Teaching
  • Ed.D. - Curriculum and Teaching
  • Ed.D. - General Education

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Education Specialist in Teaching and Learning

What is your highest level of education?