Curriculum and instruction programs prepare people to plan and create sets of courses for schools and education programs. Students learn to design courses for specific ages, grade levels, and subjects. They also learn how to use and evaluate teaching materials.
Some states give all students standardized tests to make sure that students are learning what they are supposed to. In those localities, schools obviously must shape curriculum so that it covers the topics that students are expected to know for the tests. Choice of curriculum also is influenced by the content of textbooks. And schools may have little choice over what textbooks they are allowed to use.
But within these limitations, schools still have some freedom to choose what to cover in class. And they may have considerable freedom to make some other choices about instruction. For example, the sequence of subjects may be flexible. Schools may choose innovative methods of approaching concepts or stick with traditional methods. And they may be able to select learning resources other than textbooks. So schools need resident experts in curriculum development and instructional methods.
When teachers want to upgrade their skills, perhaps with an eye toward someday chairing their department, they often get a master's degree in curriculum and instruction. To enter to such a program, you must already have a bachelor's degree. A degree in education is good preparation for grad school in this field. The bachelor's usually takes four years of full-time study beyond high school. The master's program takes one or two years of full-time study beyond that. A few hundred graduate schools offer this program. They often accommodate the scheduling needs of working teachers, allowing degree candidates to study part-time over several years.
When you study curriculum and instruction, you learn how instructional methods are based on theories about how people learn. You study ways of combining different instructional methods to address different learning styles. You learn how to evaluate a course of study to gauge how well it is meeting its goal. Doing so means conducting research, and that generates data. So you learn how to use statistical methods to draw valid conclusions from data.
If research is your primary interest, or if you would like to teach curriculum and instruction in college, you should plan on getting a doctorate in this field. About 100 universities offer this program. This usually takes about three years beyond the master's if you can study full-time, but you usually can prepare part-time over a longer stretch of years. The program focuses on developing your research skills and culminates in an original research project that you write up as a dissertation.