Curriculum Terms and Concepts
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Curriculum Terms and Concepts: 

Digging deeper into curriculum development

"Development" describes the process of curriculum-making.

"Design" describes the end result, or the product of curriculum development.

This page offers a more academic or scholarly approach to these topics. It is optional.


The steps of curriculum development

Different perspectives on development

Participants in curriculum development process

Curriculum Designs


The Steps of Curriculum Development?

        1.   What educational purposes should the school seek to attain? 
        2.   What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes? 
        3.   How can they be organized? 
        4.   How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained? 

For an overview of these steps and how they relate to the development of web-based curriculum and lessons, see Cunningham and Billingsley chapter 1.

#1:  What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?

What AIMs, GOALs, and OBJECTIVEs should be sought? 

Educational objectives become the criteria for selecting materials, content outlined, instructional methods developed, and tests prepared. 

How to write objectives
Objectives often incorrectly stated as activities the instructor must do, rather than statements of change for students. 

Objectives are also listed as topics, concepts, or generalizations; however, this approach does not specify what the students are expected to do with these elements such as apply them to illustrations in his/her life or unify them in a coherent theory explaining scientific deliberation. 

Objectives can be indicated as generalized patterns (To Develop Appreciation,   To develop broad 
interests.)  These are more goals than objectives.  It is necessary to specify the content to which this 
behavior applies. 

Should specify the Kind of Behavior and the Content or Area in which the behavior is to operate. 


To create a simple web page using a text editor. 
To apply Dewey's theory of the child and the curriculum to the process of developing a curriculum 


Upon completion of this module, students will be able to: 
...compute the selling price of an automobile given information about list price, taxes, options, and 
destination charges 
...construct a timeline showing the relationship among at least 20 major events in the Roman empire 
...describe the steps necessary for creating complete Web-based curriculum modules 

Example nonpreordinate objective:  "Students will attend a Shakespeare play." 

For more on aims and goals, see Cunningham and Billingsley, Chapter 2.

2.   What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?

Criteria for selecting experiences; are they: 

  • valid in light of the ways in which knowledge and skills will be applied in out-of-school experiences?
  • feasible in terms of time, staff expertise, facilities available within and outside of the school, community expectations?
  • optimal in terms of students' learning the content?
  • capable of allowing students to develop their thinking skills and rational powers?
  • capable of stimulating in students greater understanding of their own existence as individuals and as members of groups?
  • capable of fostering in students an openness to new experiences and a tolerance for diversity?
  • such that they will facilitate learning and motivate students to continue learning?
  • capable of allowing students to address their needs?
  • such that students can broaden their interests?
  • such that they will foster the total development of students in cognitive, affective, psycholmotor, social, and spiritual domains?
Curriculum Content
Criteria for selecting content: 
  • what will lead to student self-sufficiency?
  • what is significant?
    • Two definitions of "significance":

    •   1.having or conveying a meaning; expressive, suggesting or implying deeper or unstated meaning 
        2.important, notable; consequential 
  • what is valid (authentic, "true")?
  • what is interesting?
    • note:  student may not even KNOW his own interests
  • what is useful?
  • what is learnable?
  • what is feasible?

For more on selecting good educational experiences and content, see Cunningham and Billingsley Chapter 3.


3.   How can the educational experiences be organized?

Education experiences must be organized to reinforce each other. 

Vertical vs. horizontal organization 

Continuity - refers to the vertical reiteration of major curricular elements. 
Reading social studies materials continued up through higher grades 

Sequence -  refers to experiences built upon preceding curricular elements but in more breadth and detail. Sequence emphasizes higher levels of treatment. 

Integration - unified view of things.  Solving problems in arithmetic as well as in other disciplines. 

We aim for educational effectiveness and EFFICIENCY. 

Most institutionalized education is MASS education: we want to be able to teach GROUPS instead of 

Most education is DEPARTMENTALIZED, because we expect someone trained in a specific topic to be more likely to be able to teach that topic.  (This is based upon the notion that WORKERS will have higher productivity if they do the same thing over and over again, related to the "social efficiency" theories of Frederick Taylor.) 

Generally, we arrange educational experiences from easiest to hardest, and from most general to more specific.  (There is some evidence that this is not the best way to teach--that students are more likely to learn if specific skills or topics are introduced first.) 

4.  How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?

This question concerns evaluation, which we will discuss in the Assessment of Educational Sites module.


This image summarizes the steps of the Tyler Model.

Different perspectives on curriculum development

(These notes are from my "Curriculum Development and Learning Theories" class at Northeastern. To access the notes for an entire semester, visit my course materials page.) 
In Ornstein and Hunkins, "development" describes the process of curriculum-making; "design" describes the end result, or the product of curriculum development. 

Curriculum development produces curriculum designs.

Development can be articulated as a series of steps, such as: 
  • define educational purposes
  • construct activities/experiences that can meet these purposes
  • organize activities/experiences
  • evaluate whether purposes have been met

  • (These are the "steps" in the Tyler Rationale
Designs can be articulated or described as an arrangement of curricular "elements" or "components," such as: 
  • "aim"
  • "rationale"
  • "audience"
  • "objectives"
  • etc.
In discussing "development," it is possible to describe several competing "approaches" to development. 

Ornstein and Hunkins categorize these approaches as technical-scientific, nontechnical-nonscientific 
Ornstein and Hunkins stress the value of finding a "middle ground" between these approaches 

  • Technical-scientific approach
    • curriculum as plan or blueprint
    • definable process
    • activity, or task, analysis
    • means/end analysis
    • usually "preordinate" (or preordained) objectives
    • emphasis on efficiency
    • the "Chicago School"
    • extremely influential approach
    • criticized as too linear, dehumanizing

    • Tyler approach modified by others, especially Taba, who listed 7 steps:
      1. diagnosis of needs
      2. formulation of objectives
      3. specification of content
      4. organization of content
      5. selection of learning experiences
      6. organization of learning activities
      7. evaluation and means of evaluation
    • Taba also wanted TEACHERS to be primary curriculum developers
    • Hunkins adds initial step of "conceptualization and legitimation, involving deliberation of the nature of curriculum and its value
    • Hunkins also adds "feedback loops" among various steps, showing that curriculum development is an iterative process
    • This approach has found new life since mid-1980s as "Outcome-based Education" or OBE:
      • "Outcome-Based Education (OBE) means organizing for results: basing what we do instructionally on the outcomes we want to achieve.... Outcome-based practitioners start by determining the knowledge, competencies, and qualities they want students to be able to demonstrate when they finish school and face the challenges and opportunities of the adult world.... OBE, therefore, is not a "program" but a way of designing, delivering, and documenting instruction in terms of its intended goals and outcomes." (Source)
  • nontechnical-nonscientific approach
    • questions some assumptions of technical-scientific approach:
      • questions universality, objectivity, logic
      • t-s approach abstracts knowledge from context
      • t-s approach overemphasizes articulation of aims
      • t-s approach too linear
      • t-s approach takes modernism too seriously
    • stress personal, subjective, aesthetic, heuristic, and transactional nature of curriculum
    • stress focus on LEARNER, not on "products" of education
    • view learning as holistic
    • student as participant in curriculum development
    • denies logical positivism
    • may stress "nonpreordinate" objectives (open-ended outcomes:  "Students will be transformed through their participation in the high ropes course.")
    • See SOME LIMITATIONS OF OUTCOME-BASED EDUCATION (link doesn't work 6-30, cac) by JIM McKERNAN, University of Limerick) for sample of this perspective
      • McKernan writes:  "It is not the goal of teaching to produce results, but to create an experience in which the student can arrive at creative encounters, be drawn out, and make meaning."
    • Examples:
      • Glatthorn's Naturalistic Model
        • Assess the alternatives
        • Stake out the territory
        • Develop a constituency
        • Build the knowledge base
        • Block in the unit
        • Plan quality learning experiences
        • Develop the course examination (or other assessment tools)
        • Develop the learning scienarios
        • The Deliberation Model
        • "deliberation is the essential process engaged in curriculum development. Through deliberation, individuals engage in curriculum decision making."
        • celebrate social dimension of curriculum work
        • acknowledges circularity of development process
        • involves acknowledgement of eternal "incompleteness" of curriculum
        • Proceeds generally from PROBLEM to PROPOSALS to SOLUTION (with CONTEXT)
        • Noye's six-phase deliberation model
          1. public sharing
          2. highlighting agreement/disagreement
          3. explaining positions
          4. highlighting changes in position
          5. negotiating points of agreement
          6. adopting a decision
        • Hunkins "Conversational Approach"
          • Free association
          • Clustering Interests
          • Formulating Questions or Curricular Focuses
          • Sequencing Questions or Curriculum Focuses
          • Constructing Contexts for the Focuses
      • Post-positivist/post-modern methods
        • embraces uncertainty, chaos, allowing order to "emerge"
        • curriculum should help students search for "instabilities"
        • curriculum should aim for 'dissipative structures' rather than specific ends
          • "Autopoiesis refers to the characteristic of living systems to continuously renew themselves and to regulate this process in such a way that the integrity of their structure is maintained. Whereas a machine is geared to the output of a specific product, a biological cell is primarily concerned with renewing itself." (Jantsch, E [1980]. The Self-Organising Universe. Oxford:Pergamon, p. 7)
          • "But if he invests himself - the most intimate event of all - in the enterprise, the outcome, to the extent that it differs from his expectation or enlarges upon it, dislodges the man's construction of himself. In recognising the inconsistency between his anticipation and the outcome, he concedes a discrepancy between what he was and what he is. A succession of such investments and dislodgements constitutes the human experience." (Kelly, G. [1970]. A Brief Introduction to Personal Construct Psychology. In: D. Bannister [ed.] Perspectives in personal construct theory. London: Academic Press, p. 18)
        • These theories do not result in a specific model (usually), but emphasize the social, and EMERGENT quality of curriculum


    Participants in curriculum development process

    Possible participants 
    • teachers
    • students
    • principals
    • curriculum specialists
    • associate superintendent
    • superintendent
    • boards of education
    • lay citizens
    • federal government
    • state agencies
    • regional organizations
    • educational publishers
    • testing organizations
    • professional organizations
    • other groups

Curriculum Design

    What are the "parts" of a curriculum, and how do they interrelate? 
    Most curricula include: 
    • aim, goals, objectives
    • subject-matter
    • learning experiences
    • evaluation approaches
    Some curricula also include: 
    • needs assessment
    • rationale
    • audience
    • pre-requisites
    • materials
    • discussion of learning theory
    Relationship between "curriculum" and "instruction" 
      Doll:  instructional planning is part of curriculum design concerned with learning experiences 
    Horizontal and Vertical Organization 
    • Horizontal deals with scope and integration: side-by-side arrangement of activities
    • Vertical deals with sequence and continuity: logitudinal placement of activities
    • Notion of "spiral curriculum"
    Design Dimensions 
    • Scope: breadth and depth of content
    • Sequence: how do experiences ensure continuity?
      • issue of whether to get sequence from subject field or developmental stages
      • sequence principles:
        • simple to complex
        • pre-requisite learning (part to whole)
        • whole to part (overview followed by specifics)
        • chronological learning (world-related)
        • content-related
        • learning-related
        • learner-related
        • utilization-related
    • Continuity: recurrence, repetition
    • Integration (linkages among subject-matters)
      • takes place "only" within learners
      • driving focus on "theme-based" schools
    • Articulation: inter-related of aspects of curriculum (vertical or horizontal), including assessment
    • Balance between:
      • child-centered and subject-centered curriculum
      • needs of individual vs those of society
      • needs of common education vs specialized education
      • breadth and depth of content
      • traditional vs. innovative content
      • needs of unique range of pupils regarding learning styles (added by CAC:  balanced with need for teachers to have consistent expectations for all)
      • different teaching methods and educational experiences
      • work and play
      • community and school

Types of curriculum designs

In developing specific learning activities for a given set of objectives, curriculum designers need to decide whether they want to place the subject-matter, the learners, or problems at the center.  The following sections discuss each category of activitity. 


Many learning activities in schools emphasize subject-matter or academic disciplines. Either a particular subject-area, the broader themes of a discipline, interdisciplinary concepts or themes, the correlations among two or more subject areas, or particular processes can serve as this organizing center.  In each case, the characteristics of the subject-matter, and the procedures, conceptual structures or relationships which are found within or among the subject-matter, dictate the kinds of activities that will be selected. 
In centering activities on subject-matter, designers have to avoid the possibility that activities will not “fit” with a given learner or set of learners. This possibility results from the fact that subject-matter, at least as formulated my subject-matter or discipline experts, is often highly abstract. Experts tend to utilize schemas and categorizations (taxonomies) which have little apparent relationship to the experiences of the uninitiated. Trying to teach 10 year olds about insects utilizing the schemas utilized by entomologists may be counterproductive. Therefore, curriculum designers need to look for ways of linking subject-matter to students own experience, and concentrate on the developmental structure of the subject-matter (that is, the sequence in which the subject-matter is most easily and naturally learned). 
Designers who are developing a curriculum organized around a given subject-area (for example, World War II) will look at the facts, concepts, and skills related to, or encompassed by, that subject area, and plan activities that will lead students from their prior experiences into mastery of the elements of the subject area. 
A variant of the subject-area-centered curriculum is one that is focused on a discipline.  In this case, the center of the curriculum is the conceptual structures and processes that define the discipline and inform the work of people within the discipline.  Students engage in activities that imitate the activities of scholars in the field.  For example, history or sociology students may write research papers that utilize primary source materials; chemistry students will perform key experiments from the history of chemistry; or literature students will write, edit, and perform their own plays.  (cf. Bruner). 
The problem with discipline-centered curriculums is that they are likely to ignore the knowledges and skills that lie between and among the various disciplines but which may be central in the lives or futures of the students. For example, students need to learn the relationship between science, technology, and culture; these relationships are usually ignored by the sciences themselves.  One way around this problem is to center activities not on a given discipline but on a broad field including several disciplines.  Obvious examples are “social studies,” general science, and integrated mathematics, which merge several separate “fields” into an interdisciplinary subject area. These broad fields, or interdisciplinary subject areas, allow for more correlation, integration, and holism than strict disciplinary studies. 
Broad fields can also be defined around conceptual clusters, such as “Science, Technology, and Society,” Darwinism, The Renaissance, Ancient Greece, or Political Economy, or overarching themes, such as “Colonialism” or “Rituals.” The various concepts, skills, and attitudes related to these clusters of concepts can be “mapped” utilizing a concept map or “web” (O+H p 248) which can then serve as the template for the development of a web site. The inter-relationships among the subject areas and topics involved in the broad field or in the specific implications of an overarching theme can be the basis for activities in which students compare and contrast related areas, developing interdisciplinary understandings and metacognitions which can serve to organize the complexity of real-world knowledge. 
Web sites designed to support interdisciplinary or thematic units might include a wide selection of resources, along with a menu of activities or essential questions designed to foster student inquiry into relationships the exist among these resources. 
A final way that subject-matter can be the organizing center of a curriculum is to focus on certain processes, such a “problem-solving,” “decision-making,” “computer programming,” or “questioning.” Each of these processes can involve a wide variety of subject-matters or specific problems and issues. A variety of activities can guide students toward increasingly sophisticated models of the process—models that include the ways in which the process is varied to meet differing goals. 


Dewey’s emphasis on native impulses of the child (socialize, construct, inquire, create) 
Negotiated curriculum 
Interest-centered curriculum 
Freierian dialogic education 
Hunkins: disrupt the status quo of students’ understanding 
Can emphasize development of fully-functioning students, through focus on subjective, feeling, perceiving, becoming, valuing, growing (Maslow); curriculum encourages the tapping of personal resources of self-understanding, self-concept, personal responsibility (Carl Rogers) 
Confluent education: strive to blend subjective and intuitive with the objective 
Curriculum should provide students with alternatives from which they can choose what to feel 
Participation, nonauthoritarian 
Development of self as most important objective 
Transcendent education
Concept of wholeness of experience 
Give students opportunity to take a journey, to reflect on that journey, and to relate that journey to others, past, present, future, emphasizes dispositions of humans for hope, creativity, awareness, doubt and faith, wonder, awe, and reverence (O+H p. 257) 


Planned prior to arrival of students, but willing to adjust to fit needs of students 
Problem can be interdisciplinary 
Life situations 
core designs 
social problem/reconstructionist designs 
Social problems, social reconstructionism; educators potentially affect social change through curriculum development 
Engages learner in analyzing severe problems facing mankind 
Furthering the good of society 
Example problems (Clift and Shane, quoted in O+H p 262).:
What policies shall govern our future use of technology? 
At a global level, what shall be our goals, and how can we reach them? 
What shall we identify as the “good life”? 
How shall we deploy our limited resources in meeting the needs of various groups of people? 
How shall we equalize opportunity, and how shall we reduce the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots”? 
How can we maximize the value of mass media, especially television? 
What shall be made of psychological, chemical, and electronic approaches to behavioral modification? 
What steps can we take to ensure the integrity of our political, economic, and military systems? 
What, if anything, are we willing to relinquish, and in what order? 
And, what honorable compromises and solutions shall we make as we contemplate the above questions? 

    Issue for discussion:

    Ornstein and Hunkins write (p. 237-38): 
      Even though design decisions are essential, it appears that curricula in schools are not the result of careful design deliberations. In most school districts, overall curricular designs receive little attention.  Curriculum often exists as disjointed clusters of content organized as particular items that frequently duplicate and/or conflict with other items.  Robert Zais has noted that many courses in the schools curricula are really the result of current 'educational' fashion and not careful deliberations about design. 
    Do you agree with this statement?  Does it describe your school district's overall curriculum?  What barriers exist to paying more attention to curriculum design? 


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The contents of the Web Institute Web Site, including the On-Line Curriculum, Web Tank, and Session Notes, are Copyright 1999-2000, Graham School of General Studies, University of Chicago. No one may print, copy, or otherwise reproduce these materials without the express written permission of the Director of Education Programs at the Graham School. All rights reserved. 

The chapters from Curriculum Webs: A Practical Guide to Weaving the Web into Teaching and Learning are Copyright 1999-2000, Craig A. Cunningham and Marty Billingsley. No one may print, copy, or otherwise reproduce these materials without the express written permission of the authors. All rights reserved.