Analysis Of Curriculum Perspectives

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Curriculum perspectives arose from the fact that there are two main aspects of any curriculum. The first is more obvious than the other; the formal curriculum. This involves the academic parts of any curriculum. These are the elements that are taught in the classroom. The other aspect is the hidden curriculum. This is concerned with the values that are inculcated in the classroom. These values remain with students for the longest part of their live and have a greater effect on them than the formal curriculum does. Most schools mostly focus on the non-visible elements rather than the hidden part as asserted by Cusick (1973). He did research on implementation of the curriculum and found that schools spend about sixty seven percent of their time focusing on hidden aspects of the curriculum yet they were not aware of this. Eisner (1979) asserts that those subjects that receive more attention are determined by the hidden curriculum. The latter is also responsible for the teaching styles adopted in classrooms and methods of delivering subject content.

In relation to this argument, many philosophers and educationists came up with theories explaining the nature of the hidden curriculum. The proponents, critics and content of these perspectives will be examined in detail in the subsequent portions of the essay. These will incorporate five main perspectives.

Experiential theory of the curriculum

Psychology is one of the most important disciplines in education because rot was responsible for the creation of the experiential theory of the curriculum. It should be noted that before experiential approaches most theories of education revolved around reductionist views. However, with the passage of time, more and more psychologists realized that there was more to learning that reduction. This formed the background fro the experiential theory.

The main proponents of the theory were Freire and Kolb. The proponents believed that learning occurred in a cycle. It first starts with experience, this is then followed by reflection where there is perception and processing, thereafter action takes place. For example, teachers may be faced with the task of awarding grades for a particular exam. The fact that they are undergoing that challenge denotes the fact that they are experiencing it; i.e. the first phase of experiential learning. Thereafter, teachers have to think about other circumstances where they have had to do the same. This will constitute the reflective part of the learning process. Thereafter, they are expected to consider all the angles to the issue. They may decide to consult with other teachers on the issue and this will cause further reflection.

This reflective aspect is made of two major concepts. These are abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. In the latter part, one has to apply logic in the formation of ideas; feelings are not considered here. While in the active experimentation stage, learning occurs through experimentation with changing scenarios. Kolb therefore came up with four stages that help to identify learning styles depending on the earlier elements of the learning process. The stages are; activists, pragmatists, theorizers and reflectors. Those who focus on one stage more than another will fall into that respective learning style.

Knox (1986) asserts that these stages can be applied in the classroom when students are trying to learn something. This is because they can relate to subject content on a cognitive level and can therefore internalize the learning process. Besides that, experiential theory can also be applied by teachers. Teachers can present information in bits or in phase so that they can allow learners to ‘experience’ it. Brookfield (1990) asserts that teachers should realize that curriculum ideas are tested through the experiences acquired from their lives.

There are some critics to this theory. Rodgers (1996) asserts that the learning process is more complex than more. There are certain aspects of learning that may occur and these are not included in the four stages put forward by Kolb. Rogers suggests that learners need to set goals, make out intentions and purposes; they also need to make choices. All these aspects are not distinct in Kolb’s theory. Another limitation of the experiential theory is that the styles of learning are not based on standards but are dependent on how learners rate themselves.

Source; Kelly Curtis (2007): The theory of experiential learning; retrieved form accessed on 28th April 2008

Constructivist theory of the curriculum

The constructivist approach was put forward by a number of proponents. These include Dewy (1998); who is looked at the major philosophies behind it.  There was Piaget (1972) and Bruner (1990) who were cognitive constructivists while Vygotsky (1978) was a social constructivist. The theory presupposes that learning takes place in such a manner that the recipients of information build up on those skills and knowledge that they receive from the environment as asserted by (Harnard, 1982)

The main idea behind the constructivist approach is the fact that most of the time, there is a need to teach ideas in holistic manner. There is little room for breaking the summarizing process into steps. An example of how this theory can be applied in the classroom scenario is by asking students to summarize short amounts of paragraphs by picking out what they are familiar with. Thereafter, the teacher can ask students to summarize larger chunks of information until they learn proficiency even if they will be dealing with new information. According to this theory, teachers should treat tasks as wholes and teachers enhance learning by varying the environment. Instructions must also be presented in such a away that learners can fill in the left behind. They must also be organized in such a manner that they facilitate better understanding by learners.

Critics site that the theory oversimplifies the relationship between thinking and behavior. Where thinking will be influenced by attitudes, one’s intellectual skills and the knowledge they possess. Doyle (1997) adds that there are several complex variables that come into play; for example, emotions, consequences and factors unique to a given situation. Consequently, it becomes rather difficult to determine one’s adaptive behavior. The same author asserts that one must look into a particular situation as it is to analyze the content and form of the mental models coming into play during the learning process.

Behavioral theory

Behavioral theory of learning as applied to the curriculum refers to how the environment can influence acquisition of knowledge as asserted by Cunia (2005). He continues to make an analogy of the learning process to a black box. The black box will depict different characteristics or output depending on what stimulated it (input). He explains that one can deduce learning progress by checking on behavior. For example students who passed a test after trying out a number of study techniques should settle on the study technique that caused him to pass. Cunia (2005) adds that learning occurs when behavior indicates that a given stimulus was effective in producing the desired outcome.

The main emphasis in this theory is on a thinking curriculum. The theory is mostly applied in situations where students are trying to summarize information. A teacher is supposed to disseminate information in a stepwise manner. Once a teacher starts with the first step, learners are supposed to divide into sub skills where they categorize information. Thereafter, a teacher is expected to give the second step where learners are expected to erase all the irrelevant material in the first step and then build up on what they acquired in the first step hence the construction of ideas. A basic prerequisite for the constructivism theory is that learners establish routines on how best to complete a learning task; they are taught the skill of summing up sub processes. In the behavioral approach, a teacher must first consider the knowledge that students are expected tpo acquire, thereafter the development of a curriculum can occur. However, it should be noted that in most circumstances the learning process mostly occurs in an inductive and stepwise manner. (Fennimore & Tinzmann, 1990)

Critics assert that mot learners lack the ability of lumping up the information to come up with a holistic approach. Most of them lack the ability to reconcile the sub processes involved in the learning process and hence get stuck there. Besides this behaviorists usually focus on end goals of the curriculum rather than what kind of knowledge students have acquired in the past. What this does is that each time a student has to learn something new, they can’t relate it to past information. Consequently students will see very little meaning in information and therefore easily forget it as asserted by Ullman (1980). The latter author also adds that another problem with the theory is that there is more emphasis on building up on previously acquired knowledge therefore students who had not acquired much knowledge will have severe limitations in the learning process; there may be many gaps left

Traditional theory

The traditional theory mainly focuses on the classroom as an area that can be managed. The main assumption here is the students can be manipulated in order to bring about desired results. The focus is on engineering behavior. In the traditional approach, a child’s personal views are considered as sources of contamination in the learning process and therefore take little precedence. Hopkins (1994) explains that the traditional approach was brought about by the need for efficiency as seen in the manufacturing sector. In this approach, instructions carry the day and experimental learning is viewed as a form of risky strategy.

An example of how the traditional theory is applied in the classroom is through the use of listening and observation skills.  Students are expected to deal with technical aspects of subjects such that English and Math. The drilling technique is quite useful here since most students are expected to memorize facts. Correct answers alone may not necessarily satisfy the teacher. Answers should be framed in such a way that they correspond to methods used in class textbooks. More emphasis is placed on sub skills rather than overall relevance of subject matter to students’ experiences and the world around them.

Dewey (1951) is one of the major critics of the theory. In his theory he asserts that a child can guide the learning process given the right atmosphere. He strongly opposed the traditional approach because it can be deemed as a form of imposition. It prevents children form growing their personal identities. He also adds that the traditional approach emphasizes on drilling techniques into learner’s minds rather than acquiring them. Drilling makes students loose interests in subject matter. Dewey (1951) believes that the traditional approach mostly focuses on the future; which may appear quite remote to the normal student. He gives suggestions that the most appropriate approach would be one that deals with the present through experience.

Structure of disciplines theory

In this kind, there is emphasis on the importance of subject matter content. It came about at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is based on expertise in subject content. The theory assumes that in order for members of society to function well in the wake of the global economy, there is a need to acquire high levels of literacy and numeric in subject areas. This theory of the curriculum is mainly teacher centered. Additionally, knowledge in curriculum disciplines is considered as factual. (Eisner, 1979)

Critics to this approach claim that most of the time, students are not allowed to participate actively in the learning process. Consequently, there is little room for linking different subject contents to one another and to the surrounding environment. This means that chances of developing versatile and easily adoptive citizens in the future are minimized. There is a need to link different subjects with each other in order to make a lasting impression in the learner’s mind at all times.


The curriculum theories explained above are usually reflections of what society perceives. The five main theories may be summarized as traditional or progressive theories. Conservative societies usually adopt the former while liberal societies adopt the latter. In progressive theories like experiential and behavioral approaches, there is more emphasis on the students learning process and instructions are given in context of what the student has acquired. However, traditional and structural discipline theories mainly focus on the teacher as the information disseminator and student’s participation is discouraged. (Dewey, 1998)


Dewey, J. (1998): How we think (Rev. Ed) Boston; MA: Houghton Mifflin Company

Piaget, J. (1972): The psychology of the child; New York: Basic Books.

Vygotsky, L. (1978): Mind in society; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Harnad, S. (1982): Neoconstructivism: A unifying theme for the cognitive sciences; In T. Simon & R. Scholes (Eds.): Language, mind and brain (1 – 11). Hillsdale NJ: Erlbaum, retrieved from, from accessed on 26 April 2008

Bruner, J. (1990): Acts of meaning; Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Doyle, J. (1997): The cognitive psychology of systems thinking. System Dynamics Review, 13(3): 253-265

Cunia, E. (2005): Behavioral learning theory; Principles of Instruction and Learning: A Web Quest, Retrieved from, accessed on 26 April 2008

John Dewey (1951): Experience and Education; New York: Macmillan Company

Richard L. Hopkins (1994): Narrative Schooling: Experiential Learning and the Transformation of American Education; New York: Teacher’s College Press, 12

Brookfield, S. (1990): The Skillful Teacher; San Francisco; Jossey-Bass

Knox, A. (1986): Helping Adults Learn. San Francisco; Jossey-Bass

Kelly Curtis (2007): The theory of experiential learning; retrieved form accessed on 28th April 2008

Eisner, E. (1979): The Educational Imagination; New York, Macmillan

Cusick, P. (1973): Inside High School; New York, Holt, Rinehart & Winston

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