Curriculum Development Models

Curriculum Development Models

Authors: Dr. Shaheen Pasha & Dr. M. A. Pasha

June 12, 2012

Definition of Curriculum

An undergraduate curriculum is a formal academic plan for the learning experiences of students in pursuit of a college degree. The term curriculum, broadly defined, includes goals for student learning (skills, knowledge and attitudes); content (the subject matter in which learning experiences are embedded); sequence (the order in which concepts are presented); learners; instructional methods and activities; instructional resources (materials and settings); evaluation (methods used to assess student learning as a result of these experiences); and adjustments to teaching and learning processes, based on experience and evaluation. Although the term curriculum is variably used, this definition is sufficiently inclusive and dynamic to account for the many innovations in the undergraduate curriculum that involve instructional methods, sequencing, and assessments as well as instructional goals and content, all of which have been implemented in order to improve learning.

Curriculum Development Models

The concept of a curriculum has always been a point of great concern among educationist since the late 18th century. Many models of curriculum development have been reported in literature. For example, Classic Model, also known as Prescriptive Model (Tyler, 1949), considers curriculum development as a linear and logical activity mainly focusing on four aspects: (i) Educational purposes: a desired goals/objectives, (ii) Educational experiences: instructions & contents  which act as a means of attaining these goals/ objectives, (iii) Structure of the curriculum which provides the organization of learning experiences, and (iv) Assessment and evaluation: the processes of determining learning outcomes.  

Tyler (1949) work shows an inclination toward Skinner’s behaviorism (1957) and John Dewey’s progressive education (1963) as he says, “Since the real purpose of education is not to have the instructor perform certain activities but to bring about significant changes in the students' pattern of behaviour, it becomes important to recognize that any statements of objectives of the school should be a statement of changes to take place in the students”.  (Tyler 1949: 44). His model is also labeled as “Product Model” as some researchers considered his thoughts were heavily influenced by 'scientific management' which is also associated with his name. 

Hilda Taba (1962) presented a model, also known as “interactive model” or “Instructional Strategies Model”, which mainly focuses on the planning of instructional strategies and considers it the basis of the curriculum design. Her model includes five mutually interactive elements of teaching and learning system: (i) objectives, (ii) contents, (iii) learning experiences, (iv) teaching strategies, and (v) evaluative measures.  Some of the innovative aspects of Taba’s model include determining required objectives and related content, selection and organization of learning experiences in accordance with specified criteria; selection of a variety of teaching strategies and evaluation procedures and measures. Her model gives due consideration to external factors that may affect various components of a curriculum including  the vicinity and community of school’s location,  the school district’s educational policies, the goals, resources, and administrative strategies of the school, teachers’ personal style and characteristics,  the nature of the student population. 

Wheeler (1967) has presented a cyclical model which has many similarities with linear and interactive models. The key elements of this model includes  initial situation analysis, identification of aims and objectives, contents selection and organization, selection and organization of learning activities, and the assessment / evaluation process.

Walker (1971) presented a descriptive model, referred to as naturalistic by some scholars and also known as “process model”. His model includes three important elements: (i) platform that provides the beliefs or principles to guide the curriculum developers (ii) deliberation which is the process of making decisions from available alternatives, and (iii) design that is the organization and structure of the curriculum. Lawrence Stenhouse  (1975) another advocator of process model defines: 'A curriculum is an attempt to communicate the essential principles and features of an educational proposal in such a form that it is open to critical scrutiny and capable of effective translation into practice'. He suggests that a curriculum is rather like a recipe in cookery. He says, “A curriculum, like the recipe for a dish, is first imagined as a possibility, then the subject of experiment.  The recipe offered publicly is in a sense a report on the experiment.  Similarly, a curriculum should be grounded in practice.  It is an attempt to describe the work observed in classrooms that it is adequately communicated to teachers and others.  Finally, within limits, a recipe can be varied according to taste.  So can a curriculum.”  (Stenhouse 1975: 4-5). At this point he shifted from a conventional process model as he does not consider the curriculum itself as a process rather a mean through which the constructed theory is converted into teaching-learning practices.

Weinstein and Fantini (1970) proposed a model, also known as Humanistic Model, links socio-psychological factors with cognition and concerned with the group, as opposed to individuals as most students are taught in groups. The model stresses to identify the learners demographic details and their concerns. Through diagnosis, the teacher attempts to develop student-centered strategies for instruction to meet learners’ concerns and organize contents around learners’ concerns rather than on the demands of subject matter.  He further emphasizes that the content should be organized according to the learners: life experiences, their attitudes and feelings, and the social context in which they live. Teaching procedures should be developed for learning skills, content, and organizing ideas. Teaching procedures should match the learning styles on their common characteristics and concerns). Finally, the teacher evaluates the outcomes of the curriculum: cognitive and affective objectives.

Hawes (1979) proposed a p student-centered models in which the teacher acts as facilitator rather than content authority. According to this model curriculum development is an ongoing process which is influenced by emerging theories & philosophies including theories of child behavior, theories of teaching learning, and theories of the structure of knowledge. It also includes the practices, beliefs, and experiences of those who plan the learning environment. In addition to the core elements like objectives, content, pedagogy, and evaluation the model give importance to aspects like physical situation, teacher behavior, pupil behavior, etc.

Although the curriculum development has always been a topic of K-12 education (Tyler’s, 1949; Taba, 1962; Wheeler, 1967; Walker, 1971), many concerns have also been reported in higher education literature as well. These concerns include over-burdened curriculum, lack of coherence, practicality, accessibility, quality and Integrity (HEC, 2012). In parallel, the business and industry leaders’ concerns of inadequate skills of graduates (UNESCO, 2012), and citizen concerns about graduates’ disengagement from civic life (Kerr & Blenkinsop, 2005), further revels the shortcomings of the under-graduate curriculum. Many deliberate attempts have been made to develop a curriculum model which helps to increases academic rigor, sharpen students’ critical thinking and analytical reasoning, and expose them to richer subject matter. In this regard the main research strides emerge in three areas:

  • Innovative instructional methods: In addition to lecture and class discussions, many innovative instructional methods have emerged in higher education including active learning, experiential learning, inquiry based learning, discovery based learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning; collaborative and cooperative learning, understanding by design, ADDIE model of Instructional Design.
  • Assessment of student learning: In addition to descriptive, multiple choice and short questions, new evaluation methods have been developed to promote Bloom’s higher-order critical thinking skills and other competencies required in the employment market. New methods include self-assessments, students’ portfolio, open book test, case studies analysis, group projects, prototyping, technology-based evaluation, etc.
  • Curriculum Coherence and Integration: The latest research bring reforms in curriculum development including integration of general education across the curriculum, integrating  the disparate elements of students’ learning experiences, shifting curriculum objectives  from  content delivery to attaining competencies, etc. 

In response to the increasing popularity of constructivist learning theory (Bruner, Goodnow, & Austin, 1956) and instructional design (Seels & Glasgow, 1990) in higher educational practice, Biggs’ (1996) put forwards a notion of constructive alignment. Biggs adopted the idea of the alignment of instructional design from Cohen’s (1987) who replaces learning with attainment (Biggs, 2002). Instructional alignment demands a precise match between what is intended to be taught, what is intended to be evaluated and what is intended to be learnt (Talbot, 2004). Whereas, constructive alignment asks for a shift from behaviourist pedagogy to constructivist pedagogy through stating the curriculum objectives in terms of the level of understanding required of a student than just listing the topics to be covered.  Eisner (1991) model combines behavioral principles with aesthetic components to form a curriculum. His model based on five core elements:  intentional, structural, curriculum, pedagogical, and evaluative.

Over the last few years, in higher education new curriculum models have been developed to accommodate new means of delivery, access and storage of information and to incorporate more flexibility into the existing curriculum to provide a better access to a wider range of students (Moran, 1995; Tinkler, Lepani and Mitchell, 1996;  Mitchell and Bluer, 1997). Bell & Lefoe (1998), in their flexible learning curriculum design model, talk about the selection of the media to be used for content delivery. Irlbeck, Kays, Jones & Sims’s (2006) “Three-Phase Design (3PD) Model” adopts a team-based approach to design, development, and delivery online courses.  Their model allows designing a flexible curriculum for online delivery. Some other models proposed in literature includes inclusive curriculum, learner-centered curriculum (McCombs & Whisler, 1997), spiral curriculum (Bruner, 1996), transformational curriculum (Parker, 2003), internationalization, interdisciplinary, Project Based Learning, Standards Based Learning, Curriculum Mapping (Jacobs, 1997), Integrated Course Design (Fink, 2007) etc.