What Are Horizontal and Vertical Curricula?

kristian sekulic/E+/Getty Images

A vertical curriculum links knowledge from one lesson to the next across a program of study, while a horizontal curriculum integrates knowledge across different classes or disciplines. An integrated curriculum uses both approaches.

In a vertical curriculum, what is learned in one lesson prepares students for the next lesson. It establishes skills and knowledge which are used and further developed across a whole program of study. In this way, basic skills and knowledge are both developed and reinforced as other elements are introduced into study. This method of teaching is structured and progressive, focusing on building to advanced levels of knowledge.

A horizontal curriculum means that what is studied in one particular course in an institution is in line with other, similar classes both in terms of course content and evaluation. Horizontal coherence means that teachers are evaluating students based on the standards for a particular subject and grade level.

Horizontal integration may also mean the integration of basic concepts from one course or discipline into another. For example, in studying medicine, certain basic concepts may be relevant to the study of multiple disciplines, such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology and more. Conversely, topics such as ethics and finance from other disciplines may be integrated into the study of medicine.