Curriculum Theory Research Paper

Academic Writing Service

Sample Curriculum Theory Research Paper. Browse other research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. iResearchNet offers academic assignment help for students all over the world: writing from scratch, editing, proofreading, problem solving, from essays to dissertations, from humanities to STEM. We offer full confidentiality, safe payment, originality, and money-back guarantee. Secure your academic success with our risk-free services.

The curriculum is defined as programs of teaching and learning which take place in formal settings. Examples of formal settings are schools, colleges and universities. A curriculum may refer to a system, as in a national curriculum, an institution, as in the school curriculum, or even to an individual school, as in the school geography curriculum. The four dimensions of curriculum theory are aims or objectives, content or subject matter, methods or procedures, and evaluation or assessment. The first dimension refers to the reasons for including specific items in the curriculum and excluding others. The second dimension is content or subject matter and this refers to the knowledge, skills, or dispositions which are implicit in the choice of items, and the way in which they are arranged. Objectives may be understood as broad general justifications for including particular items and particular pedagogical processes in the curriculum, or as clearly defined and closely delineated outcomes or behaviors, or as a set of appropriate procedures or experiences. The third dimension is methods or procedures and this refers to pedagogy and is determined by choices made about the first two dimensions. The fourth dimension is assessment or evaluation and this refers to the means for determining whether the curriculum has been successfully implemented.

Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services

Get 10% OFF with 24START discount code

1. Aims Or Objectives

Any curriculum is always a selection. Sets of justifications for curricular inclusion may be divided broadly into four types: logical delineations between domains of knowledge, distinctive mental or cognitive operations, cross-cultural social distinctions, and deliberative activity about the ideal society.

An example of logical delineations is Hirst’s (1974) forms of knowledge and experience: logico-mathematical, empirical, interpersonal, moral, esthetic, religious, and philosophical. Each of these forms has distinctive kinds of concepts and distinctive ways of determining truth from falsehood. Hirst claimed, therefore, that each has a separate logical form. An example of the second type of justification is Gardner’s (1983) seven forms of intelligence: language or linguistic intelligence, logical–mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical analysis, bodily kinesthetic thinking, interpersonal knowledge, and intra-personal knowledge. His justification for inclusion of these forms of intelligence is psychological: individual learners have cognitive or mental modules which are separate and act separately from other mental modules. Individuals have been shown to differ in their capacity to perform these different types of operations. A third set of justifications moves us out of the mind and focuses on the culture we inhabit. Lawton (1989) argues that all societies have cultural subsystems: sociopolitical, economic, communication, rationality, technology, morality, belief, esthetic, and maturation. Because these are universal and cross-cultural, Lawton concludes that curriculum developers should seek to represent the forms of knowledge which underpin them. A fourth set of justifications focuses on the arrangements made by particular societies, both currently and in the future. The normative needs of society are given precedence over logical, cultural, or psychological justifications. This is best exemplified in relation to the debate about the respective merits of academic and vocational curricula.

2. Content Or Subject Matter

2.1 Relations Between Items

A further concern of curriculum theorists is the relations between these different items of knowledge. The two most important types of relations are the degree of integration between different knowledge domains and progression within the domain itself. The first of these is the degree of integration. A curriculum may be understood as strongly or weakly classified and as strongly or weakly framed. A strongly classified curriculum is defined by Bernstein (1990) as clearly delineated domains of knowledge with strong boundaries between them; conversely, a weakly classified curriculum is understood as having weak boundaries between the different knowledge domains. A strongly framed curriculum, on the other hand, is defined as a program of study in which teacher and student have limited control over the selection of items and the way it is organized in respect of the pedagogical relation-ship. A weakly framed curriculum is characterized by greater control by teacher and student over the selection of content, the way it is organized and its pacing. Bernstein, in relation to the first of these principles, classification, identifies two types of curricula: ‘collection codes’ where strong boundaries between domains are present, and ‘integrated codes’ where weak boundaries are in evidence. Fogarty (1991) has identified 10 models of curriculum integration and these range from strongly classified and strongly framed curricula, as in the traditional approach, to weakly classified and weakly framed networked approaches to curriculum planning. Between the two extremes, traditional and networked approaches, she identifies eight other points on the continuum: connected, nested, sequenced, shared, webbed, threaded, integrated, and immersed.

The second dimension is progression within the domain, or, with integrated curricula, domains. Underpinning the notion of progression is a rationale for teaching some aspects of the knowledge domain before others and a belief that a subject can in fact be arranged in a reliable hierarchy. Adey (1997) argues that it is possible to do this and develops a three-dimensional model comprising conceptual complexity, breadth, and extent. Using only the last of these two dimensions leads to a naive view of learning. For Adey, a measure of conceptual complexity is also needed to provide a fully developed model of cur-riculum progression. Examples of these frameworks are Piaget’s (1971) schema comprising progression from concrete operational to formal operational thinking and Kohlberg’s (1976) stages of moral thought, where the subject progresses from premoral and conventional rule conformity levels to the acceptance of general rights and standards, and even to adopting individual principles of conduct. These hierarchies are based on empirical investigation. The other way of establishing knowledge hierarchies is through some form of logical ordering, where complexity comprises both a progressive development of more items of knowledge and the making of more complicated connections between these items of know-ledge.

2.2 Modeling Objectives

However, curriculum theorists have also focused on the way in which those aims and objectives are expressed. Three models have been developed: curriculum as product, curriculum as process, and curriculum as content. The first model specifies the development of behavioral objectives, and this approach has been discussed in a number of classical commentaries on curriculum (Tyler 1949). Curriculum-making is understood as a linear process which starts with the development of clear objectives or goals, proceeds through to the selection of content which is specified in behavioral terms—that is, its acquisition must be an observable or testable process—and finishes with the evaluation of that process to see if those objectives have been met. This behavioral objectives model has been criticized (Elliott 1998) for the following reasons: first, complex and important learning outcomes of any educational program may be neglected at the expense of the more trivial and less important, because it is easier to describe them in behavioral objective terms. Second, the prespecification of behavioral goals may encourage an inflexibility of approach within the classroom, and learning outcomes which may incidentally flow from classroom interaction will be deliberately underexploited. Third, there is a danger of assuming that if something cannot be measured, then it cannot be assessed and therefore it should not be a part of the learning process. Fourth, lists of intended behaviors do not adequately represent the way individuals learn: this is because logical order cannot be conflated with pedagogic process.

In opposition to behavioral objectives, it has been suggested that curriculum theorists should designate appropriate processes which learners need to go through—the second model. This avoids the problems inherent in the designation of prespecified behavioral objectives noted above and builds into the curriculum itself a more active and influential role for the teacher.

The third model, curriculum as content, comprises the transmission of a body of knowledge from the teacher to the learner and is underpinned by a symbol-processing view of cognition (see below) and a positivist empiricist view of knowledge. The principles which underpin this view of knowledge are a belief in realism, a belief that there is a correct way of describing reality, a belief that scientific theories are superior to commonsense understandings of the world, a belief in the cumulative and progressive nature of scientific knowledge, a belief that it is possible to make a distinction between observation and theory, and that as a result it is possible to collect facts about the world, a belief that language is a transparent medium, that is, words have fixed meanings and concepts can be defined unambiguously, and finally, a belief that the methods which are appropriate to the natural sciences are equally appropriate to the social sciences. These assertions have been challenged in the twentieth century by interpretivists, critical theorists, and postmodernists. New knowledge constructions have implications for, and are reflected in, new ways of understanding learning and therefore new forms of pedagogy.

3. Methods Or Procedures

Pedagogy is defined as the mode of delivery of the curriculum. A number of approaches have been developed. The first of these is imitation. The learner seeks to copy the actions of the teacher and in the process incorporate into their behaviors the observed characteristics of the teacher. Much learning of an informal nature, especially in childhood, takes this form. Didacticism, on the other hand, comprises instruction where the teacher inculcates the learner into either a knowledge, skill or affective domain by informing them about what they should do and how they should behave. This view of pedagogy has been disputed by constructivists and situationists who understand learning as contextualized, and thus as incapable of being understood without reference to the environment in which it takes place. In its place they would want to substitute a notion of inter-subjective interchange in which the learner constructs knowledge in the light of the experiences they have in the classroom, and in the process creates meanings for themselves and others. The fourth pedagogic approach is apprenticeship, in which learners are supported in their attempts to gain access to the culture of the society in which they are being educated.

The two most important learning theories, symbol-processing and situated approaches, allocate distinctive roles to learning styles, assessment, and meta-cognition. Symbol-processing approaches under-stand the learner and the environment as separate; learning takes place within the human mind as the individuals process information they receive through their senses, assimilate that information and create new ways of understanding. This theory understands the individual as a passive recipient of environmental influences. It separates out mind from body, language from reality, and the individual from society. Situated cognition or environmentally embedded learning understands the relationship between the individual and the environment in a different way. Situated learning approaches view the person and the environment as mutually constructed and as mutually constructing. Bredo (1999) suggests that this relationship should be viewed actively and as involving dynamic modification rather than static matching. The learners act with and on the environment, shaping or modifying themselves and at the same time shaping or modifying the environment. Situated cognitive approaches stress active, transformative, and relational dimensions to learning; indeed, situated cognitionists understand learning as contextualized. This new approach to learning has implications for the last of the four dimensions of curriculum, evaluation, or assessment.

4. Assessment Or Evaluation

Assessment usually refers to the judgments made by individuals about their learning or by others about that learning. Evaluation refers to judgments about systems, institutions, or curricula, and the same tensions which can be found in formal assessments are present here. Notions of reliability and validity which have informed most of the traditional theories about assessment are now being reformulated in response to a number of criticisms (Gipps 1994). The first criticism is that formal assessments focus on the performance of the individual at a set point in time and in controlled conditions, and not to the levels of competence reached by the learner. The second criticism focuses on the social dimension of formal assessment. Formal assessments are designed to produce accurate representations of what learners can do and what they know. Situated cognitivists, on the other hand, argue that the information collected about an individual is always context-and culture-bound. Items in a formal test are chosen by examiners and this process of choosing reflects their own understanding of the world and the set of constructs they possess to order it. This set of constructs may not be shared by the individual taking the test or being assessed. The third problem with formal assessments is that they do not, and cannot, act formatively.

Learning, whether formal or informal, is closely related to assessment. Learners want and need to know what they have learnt in order to make a judgment about what and how they need to learn next. Learning is therefore always self-reflective and indeed self-reflexive, in that learning transforms the individual’s sense of how they understand themselves and the world. This is why the word ‘formative’ is used to describe assessments which are useful to the formation of the individual through learning. The relationship between learning and assessment of that learning is complicated and depends in part on the way summative and comparative assessments—that is, imposed descriptions by other people on the individual concerned—impact on the learning situation. If these are given priority, then the process of formative assessment, indeed the process of learning itself, is impoverished.


  1. Adey P 1997 Dimensions of progression in a curriculum. The Curriculum Journal 8: 367–92
  2. Bernstein B 1990 The Structuring of Pedagogic Discourse, Volume IV: Class, Codes and Control. Routledge, London
  3. Bredo E 1999 Reconstructing educational psychology. In: Murphy P (ed.) Learners, Learning and Assessment. Sage, London, pp. 23–45
  4. Elliott J 1998 The Curriculum Experiment: Meeting the Challenge of Social Change. Open University Press, Milton Keynes, UK
  5. Fogarty R 1991 The Mindful School: How to Integrate the Curriculum. Skylight Publishing, Pallantine, IL
  6. Gardner H 1983 Frames of Mind. Basic Books, New York
  7. Gipps C 1994 Beyond Testing: Towards a Theory of Educational Assessment. Falmer Press, London
  8. Hirst P 1974 Knowledge and the Curriculum. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London
  9. Kohlberg L 1976 Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach. In: Lickona T (ed.) Moral Development and Behaviour. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Lon-don, pp. 36–54
  10. Lawton D 1989 Education, Culture and the National Curriculum. Hodder and Stoughton, London
  11. Piaget J 1971 The Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London
  12. Tyler R W 1949 Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
Distance Education Research Paper
Curriculum Evaluation Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get 10% off with the 24START discount code!