For the past decade, churches have been given a choice in how they want their teaching curriculum delivered: print or digital.

But it’s not that simple anymore.

Now there’s a new kind of church curriculum format that’s catching on: interactive curriculum.

And if you teach at your church (or if you choose what others teach), you need to know about this emerging technology: what it is, what it does, and what it means for your church.

What is interactive curriculum?

There are all kinds of Sunday school lessons out there, so let’s start with what interactive curriculum is. Interactive curriculum is dynamic content that does two basic things:

1.       It allows you to take actions within the content.

2.       It responds to those actions.

Most church curriculum available today is static. That’s not a dig at traditional curriculum: it just means that, for the most part, a Sunday school lesson won’t change very much from the time you pick it up at a store to the time you teach it on Sunday.

That doesn’t mean you can’t interact with traditional curriculum! You can obviously write notes in the teacher’s guide, improvise with crafts and snacks, and even go a little off-script with your puppet shows. But the curriculum itself doesn’t respond to those changes: they stay in the margins or in email notes to your volunteers.

Interactive curriculum takes a different approach. Specifically, it treats curriculum less like a book and more like an ecosystem of learning materials. That means that, depending on the platform, interactive curriculum lets teachers:

  • Jump from one part of a lesson (say, the introduction) to another part (the closing prayer)
  • Watch and present video within the lesson itself (instead of switching to a set of DVDs)
  • Invite and assign teachers and volunteers to lessons
  • Edit lesson content and shopping lists
  • Upload custom student resources

This sort of resource generally lives on some kind of digital platform. Disciplr, the company I work for, does this for Sunday school lessons (and soon other kinds of church studies) within a mobile-friendly Web app. Sometimes interactive curriculum can live across multiple apps, too. Logos Mobile Ed is an example of this: the self-guided learning takes place within both the Logos desktop app and their mobile apps.

digital-curriculum-vs-interactive-curriculumDigital vs. Interactive Curriculum

At this point, you may be thinking, “OK, so interactive curriculum is just another kind of digital curriculum.” From a technical standpoint, you wouldn’t be wrong. Interactive curriculum is available through digital channels.

However, publishers have used “digital curriculum” to refer to something more specific over the past several years. If you were to order digital curriculum from a publisher in 2014, you would probably expect to get a .ZIP folder (or series of folders) full of PDF lessons, audio files, printable coloring sheets, etc.

Digital curriculum, as it’s been sold, is resources that you, the church, purchase for download. Then you can print them out, tweak the wording (if you’re getting editable files), etc., etc.

That’s very different from how interactive curriculum is supposed to work, for a few reasons:

  • Digital curriculum is print curriculum republished in digital format. Interactive curriculum is the underlying teaching reimagined in a new format.
  • Digital lessons are best used when printed out. Interactive lessons are best used in their digital format.
  • Digital curriculum lives on your church’s shared drive, your laptop, and (gulp!) your volunteers’ email attachments. Interactive curriculum lives on the Web, in an app, or both.

They’re similar (both delivered digitally), but very different when it comes to how you use the curriculum.

They’re also very different when it comes to what you’re paying for:

  • With traditional print curriculum, you pay for the content and the cost for publishers to print and ship it.
  • With digital curriculum, you pay for the content and the cost to print it yourself­—no shipping, though!
  • With interactive curriculum, you just pay for the content (and maybe the cost of the platform).

Granted, these distinctions are more nuanced as you examine each individual publisher: this is just painting with the proverbially broad brush.

But this is all academic—what does interactive curriculum mean for you and your church?

Like any shift in technology, interactive curriculum brings some good news and some not-so-good news. Here’s what you should know about how interactive curriculum affects the church.

The Cons of Interactive Curriculum

  • It’s another tool to learn. Like other time-saving solutions, interactive curriculum can take a little while to get the hang of. Even if you have a decent amount of tech-savvy people on your team, you will need to account for some onboarding time.
  • The selection is still narrow. It’s expensive for publishers to make the leap from print and downloadable curriculum to interactive lessons and resources—and not every publisher can afford it. Publishers have the option to create their own platform or publish interactive content on a multi-publisher platform like Disciplr. And since interactive curriculum is still a newcomer to the church space, the selection of curriculum lines available in interactive format is narrower than your print and downloadable options.

The Pros of Interactive Curriculum

  • Lower prices. We can start with the obvious: if you’re not paying for a publisher to print Sunday school lessons, you’re going to save cash. And if you’re not paying to print out your own lessons (toner ain’t cheap!), you’re going to save cash.
  • Long-term volunteer retention. Volunteers are taking time out of their weeks to serve at church, and you know how easy it can be to lose volunteers due to increasing time demands. Interactive curriculum (should) give your volunteers an easier way to prepare for their next lesson—especially by eliminating those long email threads full of attachments.
  • More regularly updated content. If the content is interactive and online, publishers can update their curriculum in real time. That can be as small as fixing a typo or as huge as adjusting images and lessons in light of current events.
  • Less wait time. For all the benefits of traditional curriculum, I think most of us can agree that waiting for orders of print curriculum to ship to you is a pain. Interactive curriculum is served up right away.
  • More customization options. Some interactive platforms will give you the option of adjusting the content to fit your own church’s tone and style.

So if you’re in the young, restless Reformed movement, you can switch out “small groups” with “gospel communities” all you want!

Want to try it out?

Disciplr has free samples of all kinds of interactive Sunday school lessons—you don’t even need to create an account to try them out. Just go to any curriculum in the Disciplr store and check out the free samples available. You’ll be able to get a feel for how lessons, shopping lists, resources, and more work in an interactive format . . . and you’ll see why interactive curriculum is becoming so popular.