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Curriculum | Definition and Analysis

4087 words (16 pages) Essay in Education

09/05/17 Education Reference this

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Definition of Curriculum

“A curriculum is more than a list of topics to be covered by an educational programme, for which the more commonly accepted word is a ‘syllabus’. A curriculum is first of all a policy statement about a piece of education, and secondly an indication as to the ways in which that policy is to be realised through a programme of action. In practice, though, a curriculum is more than even this; it is useful to think of it as being much wider. As a working definition of a curriculum I would say that it is the sum of all the activities, experiences and learning opportunities for which an institution (such as the Society) or a teacher (such as a faculty member) takes responsibility – either deliberately or by default. This includes in such a broad concept of curriculum the formal and the informal, the overt and the covert, the recognised and the overlooked, the intentional and the unintentional. A curriculum is determined as much by what is not offered, and what has been rejected, as it is by positive actions. And very importantly the curriculum that actually happens – that is what is realised in practice – includes informal contact between teachers and learners as well as between the learners themselves, and this has been termed ‘the hidden curriculum’ which often has as much influence on what is learnt as the formal curriculum that is written down as a set of intentions. And it includes what you decide to do on the spur of the moment. So in fact it is useful to think of there being three faces to a curriculum: the curriculum on paper; the curriculum in action; and the curriculum that participants actually learn.” Coles C (2003)

Product, Process or Praxis….

That is the question. Which curriculum model relates to my own teaching? Firstly I should identify the main theories that are associated with the curriculum and the learning process, as I understand them. The main ones that come to mind are:

n Curriculum as product

n Curriculum as process

n Curriculum as praxis

n Curriculum as context

There are other theories but the above seem to have the express the basics of the curriculum and how we learn, each has its own supporters.

Curriculum as Product

What is the dictionary definition of product? Product, (noun) thing that which is produced by effort or labour, or that produced as a result of an act or process, from the Latin prodoceo, to lead or bring forth. What is the relevance to the curriculum? The process of learning is likened to that of producing a product, or something tangible, Bobbitt wrote

The central theory [of curriculum] is simple. Human life, however varied, consists in the performance of specific activities. Education that prepares for life is one that prepares definitely and adequately for these specific activities. However numerous and diverse they may be for any social class they can be discovered. This requires only that one go out into the world of affairs and discover the particulars of which their affairs consist. These will show the abilities, attitudes, habits, appreciations and forms of knowledge that men need. These will be the objectives of the curriculum. They will be numerous, definite and particularized. The curriculum will then be that series of experiences which children and youth must have by way of obtaining those objectives. F Bobbitt (1918)

We start by knowing nothing; we learn and apply our learning to our actions. It is like a manufacturing process in the way that it progresses, starting with the idea and through a series of logical step and sequences we arrive at the product or outcome.

Step 1: Diagnosis of need

Step 2: Formulation of objectives

Step 3: Selection of content

Step 4: Organization of content

Step 5: Selection of learning experiences

Step 6: Organization of learning experiences

Step 7: Determination of what to evaluate and of the ways and means of doing it.(Taba 1962)

With the Product model it makes for more precise assessment, provides structure and content, makes teachers more aware of differing types and levels, avoids vague general statements, everything is clearly laid out, learners know what is required of them to achieve, and teachers to be able to direct the learners in the correct pathway. It is very much a teacher orientated model, where the learner is very much a secondary entity; it is about how the information is given.

The product model is linked closely with behaviourism also called learning perspectives, where the physical action is behaviour. Studies in this area have been undertaken by Skinner and Gestalt, following upon the work undertaken by Pavlov.

Curriculum as a Process

The focus of this model is on the teaching activities and the teacher’s role, with the learners activities having the biggest impact. The focus is on interactions. This can mean that attention shifts from teaching to learning. This is where learning takes place. The emphasis in this model is “the means” rather than “the end”. In the process model the curriculum is not a physical thing but rather the interaction between the teacher, the learner and the knowledge. The curriculum is what actually happens in the classroom, and what we do to prepare and evaluate. Each element is constantly interacting. It is an active process, and links back to Aristotle.

The focus is on learning and the fact that the learner has a voice in the way the lesson proceeds and the nature of the learning activities. There is an emphasis on the active roles of the teachers and the learners, with the emphasis being on learning rather than teaching. There is a more rounded approach in this model as it looks at learning for life rather than specific functions. L Stenhouse (1975) likened it to:

“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.”

Curriculum as Praxis

“Curriculum as praxis is, in many respects, a development of the process model. While the process model is driven by general principles and places an emphasis on judgment and meaning making, it does not make explicit statements about the interests it serves. It may, for example, be used in such a way that does not make continual reference to collective human well-being and to the emancipation of the human spirit. The praxis model of curriculum theory and practice brings these to the centre of the process and makes an explicit commitment to emancipation. Thus action is not simply informed, it is also committed. It is praxis.” (Wikipedia)

Not very clear to the layperson.

What do we/I understand by the term “Praxis”. The dictionary definition reads:

1. Practical application or exercise of a branch of learning.

2. Habitual or established practice; custom. (The Free Dictionary)

Going one step further:

· translating an idea into action; “a hard theory to put into practice”; “differences between theory and praxis of communism (The Free Dictionary)

In short, thinking about what I do, and the way that I do it, not because I am told to do it, because I have my own values about the way it should be done, this influences the way that I do things.

This model takes into account the experiences of both the learner and the teacher, and through discussion and negotiations, recognises there may be problems. There may be common ground but this will only come about through mutual self-respect.

‘That is, the curriculum is not simply a set of plans to be implemented, but rather is constituted through an active process in which planning, acting and evaluating are all reciprocally related and integrated into the process’ (Grundy 1987: 115)

Curriculum as Content

Broadly speaking the curriculum is the same as the syllabus, and the topics that are to be taught. This is the content in which the curriculum is set. It is the examinations that shape the curriculum, the setting within society, the demands and aspirations of industry. The relationship between learner and teacher, the organisation of classes the tracking of progress.

Back to the opening question, which model influences the curriculum in my own teaching? It would have to be the Product model, with occasional use of the Process model. I am taking learners who have little or no knowledge. I am teaching them the application, and they are in turn applying this knowledge to meet required assessment criteria. There are clear aims and objectives. Learning is structured, by me to meet the specified outcomes. There are no general statements of intent. The learners know from the outset what is required of them to achieve the goal at the end; I am there to facilitate their learning.

Is this model too rigid? Would I change it? The curriculum lends itself to this model. The final assessment is a formal examination to assess the learner’s ability to perform specific tasks. These tasks are those that would be required to be undertaken within the work-place. The learner, upon completion of the course and having successfully completed the summative assessment, will be competent to take their place within the workplace, able to meet the demands of industry. They started with nothing and have achieved their goal.

What is a meant by or understood by the term curriculum?

The dictionary definition reads as follows:

1. All the courses of study offered by an educational institution.

2. A group of related courses, often in a special field of study: e.g. the engineering curriculum. (Wikipedia)

If that is so what is a syllabus?

* An outline or a summary of the main points of a text, lecture, or course of study. (Wikipedia)

It is not very clear, to either a professional or a layperson. We have the educational curricula, simplified, that which is taught in educational establishments, in short the syllabus. Then we have the total curriculum including the informal curriculum, this could be regarded as the sum total of the subjects that the learner is learning. We then have the hidden curriculum, “the hidden curriculum is taught by the school, not by any teacher…something is coming across to the pupils which may never be spoken in the English lesson or prayed about in assembly. They are picking-up an approach to living and an attitude to learning.” Meighan (1981). And so it goes on, the planned curriculum, the received curriculum, the formal curriculum, the informal curriculum, Kelly A V, (2004)

According to Alan Rogers (2002), methods and content together make up the curriculum. There is relatively very little material related to curriculum in adult or lifelong education; most of the work on curriculum has been done in schools, Griffins (1983) concentrates on philosophical concepts of the adult curriculum and tends to neglect more practical aspects of the curriculum. Curriculum is seen as a body of knowledge, the content of education to which the students need to be exposed. It is not what you say, but how you say it!

The Lifelong Learning Sector – My Curriculum area

I am employed within the adult/lifelong learning sector, supporting learners in ICT. This is over a variety of disciplines and software applications, Secretarial disciplines using Microsoft applications, text and word processing, using MS Word, presentations using MS PowerPoint, data management using MS Access and financial and mathematical work using MS Excel. There are a number of qualifications’ and routes for the learner to follow. I am also supporting learners through computerised accountancy and payroll applications, using Sage to progress within this sector of industry.

The majority of learners that I come into contact with are in the process of up-skilling, looking at new career opportunities and openings, looking at updating their own personal skills, and adding to their CV. The use of IT within the workplace has doubled to 77%, with an estimated 22m4 using technology at work.

ICT is now a part of everyday life, and no matter what position you are employed in there will be the need to have some knowledge of what a computer can do, how they are used. However there has been a 50% reduction in the number of adults taking up funded ICT provision since 2004/5, largely as a result of shorter courses being displaced by longer qualification-bearing provision. The complexity of the current system of different learning providers, funding routes and qualification outcomes make it harder to access the skills that adults need to get on line.1

Government does not make it easy for adults to access the training that they need, as detailed above. The number who lack basic skills has reduced, there is still a significant percentage who lack the basic skills to access ICT, not only skills but financial support.

Digital Life Skills are essential to all adults as they will benefit from:

Social Inclusion

Equality to access Information and Services


Business Productivity

Learning and Skills

This is a need identified by Government as an area that needs addressing:

n an estimated 22m people use technology at work – 77% of the working population. (ICT User Skills Report)

n a lack of basic ICT skills will be a disadvantage in both finding and securing a new job?(ICT User Skills Report)

Are there other factors that affect adult learners? Industry has an impact on what the learners need to study, what is required as a benchmark for employability. It is our job to ensure that we meet the criteria that is laid down to meet the needs of industry, whilst ensuring that we meet the syllabus required by the Examining Board, occasionally the two do not agree.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is responsible for funding all adult skills provision. Since 2004/05, although the overall budget has increased, there has been a 23% decline in enrolments on LSC funded programmes as funding has been focused on longer, qualification-bearing courses. (ICT User Skills Report)

A large proportion of this decline has been in ICT programmes. Data provided by the LSC Data Service suggests that over the same period there has been a 54% reduction in enrolments on ICT courses to just under 700,000 in 2007/08, and a 50% reduction in learners to 485,000 learners in 2007/08. (ICT User Skills report)

There is the legacy of what adults did not learn in their formative years in the education system. Their lack of basic skills can affect all future learning, they may be turned off by the thought of learning in adulthood, having fears of the classroom, as they remember it. Not a pleasant experience and one not to be repeated.

The prioritisation of courses leading to literacy, numeracy and full Level 2 appears to have displaced ICT provision of less than 50 hours at Entry and Level 1 in FE. The majority of this provision (75%) was accredited.

Another area that affects adult learners undertaking training is that of a financial nature. Is training to expensive? Who will pay? Equipment is expensive? Is help available? Will my benefits be affected? To some, the benefits of training are outweighed by the problems of everyday living, and until these concerns are addressed they continue as they are.

What is Evaluation?

Evaluation is systematic determination of merit, worth, and significance of something or someone using criteria against a set of standards. Evaluation often is used to characterise and appraise subjects of interest in a wide range of human enterprises. (Wikipedia)

What is Assessment?

Educational assessment is the process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs. Assessment can focus on the individual learner, the learning community (class, workshop, or other organized group of learners), the institution, or the educational system as a whole. (Wikipedia)

In my role as a teacher do I assess or do I evaluate? As a reflective practitioner do I assess or evaluate? In my role in the classroom it is important that I spend my time with the learner. The learner should be the main focus of my attention. I should ensure that they are engaged in the learning process. I start out with a plan of what we will be doing (lesson plan) throughout the session, they as learners or the group, me as the teacher, what they will be doing and what I will be doing to support them. I will be engaging with learners throughout the session, advising, supporting, encouraging, and providing feedback.

All the learners that I come into contact with receive formative feedback through the use of Q&A, tutorials, one to ones, practice examination papers and general support. They finally have summative feedback through a formal examination process. These forms of summative assessment are laid down by the qualification bodies, as they do with the syllabus that is to be studied. It is my responsibility, along with my colleagues and peers adapt the curriculum to ensure that we meet all of the criteria required.

I would therefore consider that in the classroom I undertake the role of an assessor. It would be wrong to say that I am not evaluating, I consider the evaluation process to be an ongoing process. The assessment process is “here and now”, I am assessing a learner’s ability to undertake specific tasks, to achieve a specific goal, which is measureable, and meets the required standards as determined by outside bodies.

Evaluation is undertaken as an ongoing process from the time I am advised that a class or programme of learning is to be undertaken. This process has two differing facets to it, that of QI (Quality Improvement) and QA (Quality Assurance). Do we undertake one or both of these roles? Immediate reaction is to say “yes”, but after consideration the truthful answer may be “no”. We may aspire to the former but that is all. We as teachers are more concerned with the learners and statistics, retention and achievement, s by which we are measured, and which our employers rely upon. Poor achievement and retention leads to reduced funding, a course which is not viable, and therefore it will not run!

Quality assurance is the bigger picture, that which we as front line staff strive to achieve but attain infrequently, and which we rely on our managers, employers and senior staff members to take on board on our behalf. The external agencies that monitor our teaching and all aspects of all that we undertake the examining bodies, LSC, Ofsted and all Government regulatory bodies, together with our internal monitoring and recording strategies, observations, SARs, internal verifiers. Do we have the time to participate?

Do we have the time to look at the bigger picture? It would be nice to be able to look at the curriculum from a number of differing prospectives, management, teacher and learners. Look at the syllabus, how does it fit into the curriculum. Are there sufficient resources available to meet the needs of learners, are they the right resources? Does the course meet the needs of industry? So many questions, we may aspire to do many things but realistically there are so many outside influences that affect the curriculum that our teaching takes priority, we think others will pick up the QI that we are not able to address.

My curriculum, is there room for improvement? Is there need for change?

Evidence used in the completing of this document has been taken from end of course reviews submitted by learners, past and present. Hard data in the form of registers and external examination board summative feedback, together with verbal feedback from learners past and present.

Teaching ICT in the Lifelong Learning sector brings me into contact with adult learners, looking to raise their skills base through ICT, studying for pleasure, greater use of ICT within the home environment using the Internet and Email, retraining to enter or re-enter the job market. Funding issues have seen a decline within this area and the number of adult learners has dropped. Employers are aware of the need to up skill their staff, and are know taking the necessary steps to enable their staff to review their training needs.

The courses that I support are fairly well subscribed to, those that run for a longer period tend to have significantly lower retention and achievement rates, even when fees are being paid. Is this due to the structure of the course and qualification, the times that the sessions are scheduled, the resources that the learners are supplied with? We offer a range of sessions to accommodate learners at different times. Location can be viewed as an issue, being out of town restricts access to a degree. Learners who are unemployed are offered assistance with transport costs. Equipment could be highlighted as a possible issue; if learners had computers/laptops in their own environment would they study there, if we were able to support them?

Adults are more likely to be self motivated to complete a course of study. If they drop out what are the reasons for doing so, should we check and compile meaningful data to promote a better culture of learning. Should we look at differing learning styles, and have different approaches to make the learning process more user friendly and less regimented?

The majority of the classes that I support are held in the evening, and the majority of learners work during the day time. This is the time that suits them best. However, such long hours are not conducive to the learning process. Learners become tired and make mistakes. This is not born out in the latest set of results and achievement. Are learners building themselves up for the final summative assessment, the exam? Would they be better working at home if the had access to the specialist applications? They are not able to practice in the work-place.

In an ideal world all learners would have access to the necessary equipment and applications. Learners would be accommodated in the classroom or in their own location, with support at specified times. There would be a range of resources to accommodate individual learners. Formative assessment would be undertaken on a regular basis, both on a face to face basis, and using email following marked work. Summative assessments would only be undertaken in the classroom. Nothing is perfect, these are suggestions, and everything ultimately revolves around finance.


The curriculum is a constantly changing and evolving entity or process. It can be affected by many outside influences. Social, governmental and financial, to name but a few, all have an impact of the way the curriculum is evolving. We, as reflective practitioners, have a responsibility to reflect these changes in our teaching, to ensure that our learners have a rounded knowledge and well-being of the changes within our society.


AV Kelly (1999) The Curriculum, Theory and Practice, 5th Edition (Sage)

Coles, C., (2003) Second Spine Course of the Spine Society of Europe Barcelona 16th – 19th September 2003

Bobbitt, F. (1928) How to Make a Curriculum, Boston: (Houghton)

Taba, H. (1962) Curriculum Development: Theory and practice, New York: (Harcourt Brace and World).

Bloom B. S. (1956).Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Stenhouse, L (1975) An introduction to Curriculum Research and Development, London [Accessed 09 December2009] [Accessed 12 December 2009]

Grundy, S. (1987) Curriculum: Product or Praxis, Lewes: Falmer

Alan Rogers (2002) Teaching Adults 2nd Edition OUP

HM Government (2009) Independent Review of ICT User Skills Report – Baroness Estelle Morris 230-09-SK-b

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