In education, a curriculum is broadly defined as the totality of student experiences that occur in the educational process. The term often refers specifically to a planned sequence of instruction, or to a view of the student's experiences in terms of the educator's or school's instructional goals. In a 2003 study, Reys, Reys, Lapan, Holliday, and Wasman refer to curriculum as a set of learning goals articulated across grades that outline the intended mathematics content and process goals at particular points in time throughout the K12 school program. Curriculum may incorporate the planned interaction of pupils with instructional content, materials, resources, and processes for evaluating the attainment of educational objectives. Curriculum is split into several categories: the explicit, the implicit (including the hidden), the excluded, and the extracurricular.

A curriculum may also refer to a defined and prescribed course of studies, which students must fulfill in order to pass a certain level of education. For example, an elementary school might discuss how its curricula is designed to improve national testing scores or help students learn fundamental skills. An individual teacher might also refer to his or her curriculum, meaning all the subjects that will be taught during a school year. The courses are arranged in a sequence to make learning a subject easier. In schools, a curriculum spans several grades.

In some cases, people see the curriculum entirely in terms of the subjects that are taught, and as set out within the set of textbooks, and forget the wider goals of competencies and personal development. This is why a curriculum framework is important. It sets the subjects within this wider context, and shows how learning experiences within the subjects need to contribute to the attainment of the wider goals.

Contemporary views of curriculum reject these features of Bobbitt's postulates, but retain the basis of curriculum as the course of experience(s) that form humans into persons. Personal formation via curricula is studied both at the personal and group levels, i.e. cultures and societies (e.g. professional formation, academic discipline via historical experience). The formation of a group is reciprocal, with the formation of its individual participants.

Robert M. Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, regarded curriculum as "permanent studies" where the rules of grammar, rhetoric, logic, and mathematics for basic education are emphasized. Basic education should emphasize the three Rs and college education should be grounded on liberal education. On the other hand, Arthur Bestor, an essentialist, believes that the mission of the school should be intellectual training. Hence, curriculum should focus on the fundamental intellectual disciplines of grammar, literature, and writing. It should also include mathematics, science, history, and foreign language.

In recent years the field of education and curriculum has expanded outside the walls of the classroom and into other settings, such as museums. Within these settings curriculum is an even broader topic, including various teachers, inanimate objects such as audio tour devices, and even the learners themselves. As with the traditional idea of curriculum, curriculum in a free choice learning environment can consist of the explicit stated curriculum and the hidden curriculum; both of which contribute to the learner's experience and lessons from the experience. These elements are further compounded by the setting, cultural influences, and the state of mind of the learner. Museums and other similar settings are most commonly leveraged within traditional classroom settings as enhancements to the curriculum when educators develop curricula that encompass visits to museums, zoos, and aquariums.

Curriculum as a process is when a teacher enters a particular schooling and situation with the ability to think critically, an understanding of their role and the expectations others have of them, and a proposal for action which sets out essential principles and features of the educational encounter. Guided by these, they encourage conversations between, and with, people in the situation out of which may come a course of thinking and action. Plus, the teacher continually evaluates the process and what they can see of outcomes.

Crucial to the curriculum is the definition of the course objectives that usually are expressed as learning outcomes and normally include the program's assessment strategy. These outcomes and assessments are grouped as units (or modules), and, therefore, the curriculum comprises a collection of such units, each, in turn, comprising a specialized, specific part of the curriculum. So, a typical curriculum includes communications, numeracy, information technology, and social skills units, with specific, specialized teaching of each.

In Canada each province and territory has the authority to create its own curriculum. However, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut both choose to use the Alberta Curriculum for select parts of their curriculum. The territories also use Alberta's standardized tests in some subjects.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) promulgates a core set of standards which are specific information and skills a student needs to know at each grade level in order to graduate. States may adopt these standards in part or whole and expand upon them. Schools and states (depending on how much control a state gives to its local schools) then develop their curriculum to meet each of these standards. This coordination is intended to make it possible to use more of the same textbooks across states, and to move toward a more uniform minimum level of education attainment.