Developing Awesome CTE Curriculum: What You Should Know Blog Feature
Jim Schultz

By: Jim Schultz on May 4th, 2017

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Developing Awesome CTE Curriculum: What You Should Know

Career and Technical Education (CTE) | Curriculum Development | Digital Curriculum

When teachers are reviewing our career and technical education (CTE) curriculum for use in their classrooms, they often ask us questions to determine if we are the right fit for their needs. Because many students go directly into the workforce after completing a program, CTE teachers are wary when choosing curriculum because students must be provided with correct information. Not to mention the fact that teachers need to meet state standards and prepare their students for certification!

With all of this in mind, teachers ask us these questions about our curriculum:

  • How do you develop the curriculum?
  • Does your program align to our standards?
  • How is your content different than stuff I create myself or find for free?
  • Who develops your curriculum? Do you have teachers on staff?


Before I share how HealthCenter21 and Business&ITCenter21 align to standards, or talk about who develops the curriculum, it’s important to understand the process we use here at AES:

Developing CTE Curriculum with the “Understanding By Design” Model

The curriculum development process we use at AES follows Understanding By Design” techniques. This model for development is a simple concept, but certainly requires detailed work. The Understanding By Design model (also known as a backward design process) promotes starting with the end result or outcome you wish to achieve. Once the outcomes are determined, you work backwards to develop assessments and curriculum that will lead to that desired end.

So why did we decide to use the Understanding By Design curriculum development process?

Because educators have specific standards and outcomes students must achieve, it was only natural for us to develop content that focuses on those outcomes. In the standard- and outcome-focused world of education, we know how important it is to take some of that burden away from teachers.

How To Develop Standards-Based CTE Curriculum

By using the Understanding By Design model, we create standards-based curriculum in 4 steps:

  1. Determine the learning outcomes
  2. Decide how success is measured
  3. Create the curriculum
  4. Review and update when needed

1. Determine Learning Outcomes

The Product Team begins by deciding which standards to work from when developing content on a new topic. Typically, we begin with national standards, as those are relevant to instructors across the country. We will also review state standards to see where there are common requirements, in order to make sure the curriculum we develop has the biggest impact for our teachers.

2. Decide How Success is Measured

After the outcomes have been laid out, the Product Team must determine what would be acceptable evidence of student understanding, knowledge, and skills. A range of assessments are considered at this step, such as in-lesson questions, activities with rubrics, quizzes, and tests.

3. Develop the Curriculum

The actual development of curriculum has two parts: planning and creation. Each new module goes through storyboarding as a way to lay out what the lesson will look like before the design work actually starts. When planning a lesson or activity, the Product Team must balance how much time a student spends reading, watching a video, interacting with the lesson, and answering questions. It’s definitely an art!

Once the plan has been laid out, the design and building work begins. Using a number of tools, the topics come to life as interactive eLearning lessons with multimedia content to reinforce the topics. Along with the eLearning lessons, development of quiz and test questions occurs, and any extra activities or teacher resources are created to support the content.

4. Review and Update

This is perhaps one of the most important parts of the curriculum development process at AES. To us, a module is never truly “finished,” since standards and certifications are always changing! Like for example, when CPR procedures were changed in 2015, those industry changes made an impact on teachers as well. This is something always on our radar, as we want to provide teachers and their students with the most current, up-to-date curriculum out there.

Who’s Behind the AES Curriculum Development Process?

I’ve talked about the “AES Product Team,” but teachers like to know who develops the curriculum, and very often ask if we have teachers on staff. We have an awesome team of instructional designers, instructional graphic designers, and programmers that bring the curriculum to life, with a teacher dashboard that is loved by all.

AES Product Team

We are the first to admit that while we are experts at instructional design and curriculum development, we are not experts on all of the topics! We work with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who weigh in on content and review the curriculum for accuracy. These SMEs are often nurses, industry experts or teachers who go through the curriculum to ensure everything we’ve included is correct, before it is released to our users.

The Difference Between Digital Curriculum and Teacher-Created Content

Even with knowing our development process and how our team works to meet standards, you may still be thinking: How is HealthCenter21 or Business&ITCenter21different than lessons I create and find on free websites? We’ve heard this from many teachers, so you are not alone in wondering!

There are plenty of teachers who create all of their lessons and activities from scratch. We applaud these teachers for going above and beyond to make sure their students get the best experience possible… it’s awesome! Unfortunately, for those superstar teachers, there is a big price tag to creating your own content: Time.

Preparing lesson plans takes too much time.jpg

We have heard that it can take a teacher 10 hours just to research and prepare for creating a lesson. That’s not even time spent creating the content! Then, of course,  state standards change, more time is spent on revamping those lessons instead of relaxing with your friends or family.

Even if you save time by finding free lessons and activities on the internet, there are some things to be cautious about:

  • You don’t know who created the content
  • The content could be outdated
  • Free stuff can disappear from the internet at any time
  • You still need to spend time checking for accuracy


So, what’s the difference between those options and going with a digital curriculum?

The thing is, it takes us hours upon hours, a team of people, and approximately $10,000 to develop one curriculum hour for our teachers. That’s just for one curriculum hour, based on 1-2 standards or outcomes. Multiply that by 90 or 180 hours, or even by the number of standards you need to cover and that seems somewhat impossible.

We do this work so that teachers don’t have to worry about it! Providing current, relevant, standards-based curriculum is what educators expect from our products. Our developer's time is solely focused on researching, developing, aligning, and maintaining the curriculum and assessments so that our teachers can focus on the most important part of their day: working with students.

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About Jim Schultz

As the Founder and President of AES, Jim's focus is on helping administrators and teachers so they can have more time to connect with and empower their students to become lifelong learners.

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