Digital Curriculum vs. Teacher-Made Curriculum: Which Is Better? Blog Feature
Chris Zook

By: Chris Zook on May 3rd, 2018

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Digital Curriculum vs. Teacher-Made Curriculum: Which Is Better?

Digital Curriculum

One way or another, every classroom needs a curriculum.

Sometimes that curriculum is made years in advance, and other times you needed one yesterday.

But no matter what, your course(s) will need a new curriculum at some point.

That always comes with one big question — who’s going to make it?

One of the most common solutions is to have teachers make the curriculum. But that requires a lot of time, money, and revision to get a curriculum just right.

Still, once it’s done, you have your own curriculum from start to finish — it just might cost more and take longer than you expected.

Today, a lot of administrators choose to purchase a digital curriculum. This option gives your teachers a full course management system that can include everything from custom lesson plans to automatic grading.

Still, how can you be sure you’re getting quality teaching tools with your tight budget?

That’s a valid concern. The best way to choose is to weigh the pros and cons of each!

1. Curriculum Creation: Planned vs. From-Scratch

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When you need a new curriculum, the creation process is the first factor you have to consider.

For a digital curriculum, the whole system will be planned from front to back with teachers and students in mind.

It may include some pre-made) lessons, but a good digital curriculum will have customization options so teachers can make lessons and tests unique.

For a teacher-made curriculum, you have teachers creating every single detail of a classroom from scratch.

Every topic, lesson, pacing guide, and implementation structure comes straight from them — and those take a lot of work.

That’s a ton of time, especially for a group of teachers who have to collaborate. You’re looking at time they need to spend planning, writing, and revising a curriculum to make it perfect.

It may sound quick — but it can take months to get a curriculum right.

On the other hand, a digital curriculum is already finished. It’s been planned, created, tested, and revised before you got your hands on it. Somewhere, there are teachers using that exact material to successfully educate their students.  

But the creation process is just the first step. Once a curriculum is done, how can teachers actually incorporate one curriculum or the other?

2. Curriculum Uses: Flexible Teaching vs. One-Strategy Teaching

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A digital curriculum is designed to be more flexible than almost anything else.

You can have students work through lessons at home, lecture with a PowerPoint, or introduce interactive elements to engage your students’ imaginations.

Those options make digital curriculum ideal for teaching strategies like differentiation, blended learning, and more.

A teacher-made curriculum will make it harder for teachers to differentiate their classrooms.

Unless your school has other teaching methods available, most of this kind of curriculum will focus on textbooks, worksheets, pen-and-paper assessments, and other “traditional” teaching methods.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Veteran teachers who have mastered the art of teaching in front of a classroom could help students thrive with this method.

But if there’s one thing educators have learned over the past 20 years, it’s that every student learns differently.

Some learn audibly. Some learn visually. Some learn interactively. Others could learn from direct instruction, remediation strategies, or sheer repetition.

If your curriculum only addresses one of those learning styles, then you’re leaving the rest of your students in the dust.

That’s where digital curriculum comes in handy. Interactive lessons, self-pacing, and other qualities give you the most opportunities to address a variety of learning styles.

The more students you help, the more they can succeed!

3. Curriculum Basis: Internet-Based vs. Textbook-Based

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“Digital curriculum” gets its name from the fact that it’s based on computer systems.

While this might sound intimidating up-front, most teachers and students already have experience with the basis of a digital curriculum — the Internet.

A digital curriculum is accessible anytime, anywhere as long as someone has an Internet-connected device.

So if a teacher wants to update test questions, they can do it from their laptop at home.

If a student wants to do make-up work for remediation, they can go through it on their smartphone from the passenger seat of their parents’ car.

As long as Internet is available, a digital curriculum is open for everyone at every hour of the day.

But as we mentioned before, most teacher-made curricula revolve around the use of textbooks.

And why shouldn’t they? Textbooks have been the staples of education for centuries.

But today, textbooks are significantly less reliable than they once were. This is mostly because of the rapid change in information.

Every day, someone discovers a new method for science. They uncover a new part of history.

Every time that happens, a textbook becomes outdated.

This is especially true in health science education where new medical information is published literally every week.

In fact, several teachers in the AES community agree that once a health textbook is published, the textbook is already out of date.

Let’s not forget the worst parts about textbooks, too — they’re expensive, fragile, and a pain to carry around.

With digital curriculum, everything is much more manageable. The curriculum publisher handles any updates to information, and the best publishers will regularly release their own updates to keep up with the latest trends.

4. Curriculum Content: Meets Standards vs. Made to Meet Standards

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The content of a digital curriculum is hand-crafted to work in as many classrooms (and for as many students) as possible.

That means its content is going to meet a wide swath of standards for different states, third-party certifications, and more.

This is great for teachers who have to teach according to different standards in subject areas like health science. They’ll have one set of standards to teach for the state, but they could also have other standards they need to cover to prepare students for a career-crucial certification.

Digital curriculum solves this headache by covering a huge subject area with pre-made lessons and assessments while leaving enough customization options for teachers to change what they need.

So a digital curriculum might only correlate to your state standards at a rate of 75%. But a teacher can supplement that correlation with outside materials like free online tools, textbooks, and more.

Altogether, digital curriculum does the heavy lifting while a teacher can tweak and revise specific areas they need to fulfill their teaching requirements.

With a teacher-made curriculum, teachers need to correlate all of their lessons and course materials manually.

So instead of applying a digital curriculum to a course, teachers have to apply the course to the curriculum.

This backwards approach to curriculum design means students might learn everything they need to conform to state standards, but they could also miss supplemental information that rounds out their education.

When it comes to teaching the best information, a digital curriculum simply covers more than the teacher-made equivalent.  

5. Teacher Use: Teacher-Friendly vs. Teacher-Intensive

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Students might be the focus of curriculum design, but teachers are the implementers.

The harder it is for a teacher to implement a curriculum, the harder it’ll be for students to succeed as well.

In that respect, a digital curriculum is a snap compared to a teacher-made curriculum.

Digital curricula are designed to be as easy to use as possible. Everyone from a tech-savvy IT instructor to an old-school finance teacher can learn how to use a digital curriculum.

After all, if it weren’t easy, no teachers would use a digital curriculum at all.

All a teacher needs to do is create an account, log in, and set up their courses. Then, they just go.

On the other hand, a teacher-made curriculum is an intense experience for the teachers who collaborate on it.

They have to start with standards, correlate the coursework they know, and seek out every single resource they need.

Then, they have to get all of the classroom resources approved, purchased, and delivered on time to use.

Overall, you’re looking at a creative and logistical nightmare that requires a whole lot of effort to create a curriculum that’s never been used before.

In other words, it’s a high-effort, low-yield opportunity.

It’s not only easier on the teacher to use a digital curriculum — it’s easier on your school’s budget, too.

6. Curriculum Results: Proven to Work vs. First Draft

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As mentioned in previous sections, the biggest advantage of a digital curriculum is its tried-and-true success.

Teachers have used this curriculum in the past, and they’re using it as you read this blog post.

As technology becomes increasingly important in the classroom, teachers will start using digital curriculum more as well.

The reason is simple: It works.

Every lesson, test, and feature of a digital curriculum has gone through a feedback process to ensure it’s right for the classroom.

In the unlikely event a teacher finds an error, they can report it and have it fixed in no time.

Teacher-made curriculum, on the other hand, is in its first draft.

Students could have problems with it. Other teachers might notice inconsistencies. Sometimes, the curriculum’s pacing just won’t make sense to the teachers who weren’t involved in making it.

That means the curriculum needs to change as teachers use it. So what do you do?

Halt every class until a solution is found? Change every curriculum? Come up with alternatives to make everyone happy?

It’s hard to say, and it’s even harder to choose the workaround that works for everyone.

In most cases, there isn’t one.

A digital curriculum skirts that issue altogether by giving teachers a wide range of options to accommodate their students.

When an individual teacher notices a gap in the curriculum, they can fill it with a material they know will work.

This empowers each teacher to be as flexible and adaptable as possible while maintaining a high standard of education with their students.

In that respect, a digital curriculum may be more subjective than a teacher-made curriculum, but it’s also more versatile.

At the end of the day, all of the materials in a digital curriculum are also proven to work. Teachers have taught from them, and students have succeeded with them.

A digital curriculum is just a safer bet than a teacher-made option from scratch.

7. Curriculum Costs: Affordable Annual Subscription vs. Huge Up-Front Cost

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The last issue to consider with curriculum is cost. This may not be as important to teachers, but it’s a major consideration for administrators, especially when they are the ones requiring a new curriculum.

Digital curriculum is a phenomenal deal for what you spend. Most often, the curriculum operates on a subscription cost billed annually or up front in one lump sum.

The fact that you can pay for something like five years of digital curriculum use at one time means you’ll have four years of not spending any money on new curriculum.

So while the up-front cost may be intimidating, it’s offset by the fact that you continually use the curriculum for multiple years.

For a teacher-made curriculum, you could argue that this cost is the same. After all, once teachers make the curriculum, you can use it for decades, right?

But that mentality has a few problems.

First, information changes every day. If you’re not using an updateable curriculum, then your students are falling behind.

Second, paying teachers for overtime and purchasing the resources they need will almost certainly amount to a higher cost than a digital curriculum subscription (even if you pay for multiple years at once).

At the end of the day, a digital curriculum is proven to cost less, work better, and stay up-to-date much more effectively than a teacher-made, once-and-done curriculum.

But we still have one last question to answer.

Where do you get a digital curriculum?

Our Digital Curriculum Options: HealthCenter21 & Business&ITCenter21

At AES, we offer two cutting-edge digital curriculum options.

One is HealthCenter21, which is designed for health science education for every student from middle school to career and technical centers.

Business&ITCenter21 covers career readiness, computer applications, and business fundamentals for middle and high schools.

In both options, administrators save money on resources and teachers save time in planning.

The end results are budget-friendly education solutions that make teachers happy and help students learn. 

So how does digital curriculum stack up against teacher-made curriculum?

Find out for yourself!

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About Chris Zook

Chris Zook is a contributing author to the AES blog. He enjoys everything about online marketing, data science, user experience, and corgis.