Research on Curriculum Development

Subject: Education
Pages: 10
Words: 2834
Reading time:
11 min
Study level: PhD


According to Marsh and Willis (2007), curriculum development is an assortment of actions whose outcome is changes in curriculum. Ornstein and Hunkins (2009) have also defined curriculum development as procedures that enable schools and other stakeholders to achieve set objectives. The environment in which curriculum development takes place is intricate. Such a development must meet the needs of not only the local communities, but also those of other communities at a regional, national, and global level. Curriculum development is a dynamic process that represents views from both modern and postmodern times.

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Curriculum development is also influenced by the up-and-coming perceptions on cognitive theories and new formulations of the instructional design and system theory. The present paper is an attempt to look at the process of curriculum development and how various models contribute to the overall process of curriculum development.

Ornstein and Hunkins (2009), asserts that an effective curriculum is the one developed with the central aim of nurturing deep understandings, sophisticated skills, suitable attitudes, and socially acceptable values. An effective curriculum provides an environment that enables a participatory mode of learning in which the students are major actors in the learning program. Through such empowerment, students are expected to generate individual understanding of the subject matter and gain scholarly wisdom. “Generally, curriculum development models are categorized as either technical or nontechnical (holistic)” (Tyler, 1949, p. 31). The main focus for the technical curriculum development models is on the subject matter. Nontechnical or holistic curriculum development lays emphasis on the learner as opposed to subject matter. However, in reality curriculum development is usually a combination of technical and nontechnical approaches (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009).

Problem Statement

Curriculum development is a representation of curriculum models and instructional design. There is need to investigate how each curriculum development model contributes to the overall process of curriculum development.

Literature review

Technical or Non-Technical approaches

According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2004), planning is a very essential part of curriculum development. It is notable that despite the fact that many models of curriculum do exist, they can be generalized into two major categories; technical and non-technical curriculums. The simplification of categorization is comparable to the product and process models classifications. The simplification of the curriculum development approaches into the two models is not meant to be an end themselves but rather a means of distinguishing the distinctive approaches. Consequently, this distinction is mainly for convenience of studying the subject; hence need to be cautious with respect to referring the approaches as either positive or negative.

Technical approach curriculum development is perceived by its proponent as logical and effective procedure for setting goals of education system. According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2004), critics of the non-technical approach point out its prejudice, subjective, aesthetic and over focus on the learner. It has been touted that it is similar to the process model.

The Technical approach of curriculum development puts emphasis on the students study content and the specific outputs. “The approach applies scientific principles and involves detailed monitoring of the components of curriculum design” (Tyler, 1949, p. 33). Proponents of this approach endeavor to scientifically outline the procedures that will ease the process of curriculum development. They advocate for curricular models that emphasize on rigorous means to realize desirable ends. Although proponents of the Technical-Scientific approach argue that it can be evaluated, critics question the accuracy of such an evaluation.

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Proponents of this approach prioritize knowledge acquisition and educational system that is maximally efficient. Technical-scientific curriculum development commenced around 1900, when educators sought to apply experimental methods on human behavior to the question of curriculum content. The push for a science of curriculum making accompanied the rise of biology, physics, and chemistry as well as the use of the “machine theory” evolving in business and industry (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009).

Curriculum development models

According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2009), curriculum development involves a multifaceted approach. Curriculum preparation, implementation, and appraisal are some of the many aspects of curriculum development. The people involved in the curriculum development as well as methods and procedures used are also crucial. Curriculum models are crucial in the work of curriculum developers. They enable the developers to carefully map out the fundamental principles of teaching and learning. The models provide an environment where the developers are able to accomplish this task in a transparent manner.

Ornstein and Hunkins fault curriculum models for their insensitivity and failure to notice human characteristics like feelings and attitudes that influence development of curriculum. This failures made authors suggest that the models are mere guidelines and should not be used as an alternative to best practices. Therefore, the input of professionals aimed at enhancing learning should not be overlooked because of availability of models.

Product Model and the Process Model are two polarized curriculum models. Although these models are simplistic, they have been commonly described and referred to by many authors. For example, Neary (2003, p.39) explains that the “Product Model lays emphasis on plans and intentions while the Process Model lays emphasis on activities and effects”. According to O’ Neill (2010), Tyler’s work in the nineteen seventy is credited with the emergency of the product model that has been instrumental in development of curriculum. However, it is important to understand that Tyler’s work especially that he produced in the 1970s faced a lot of criticism. This model was perceived as excessively stressing objectives of learning. Critics also complained that his model was too technical with its reasoning.

It is crucial to mention that the product model has played a big role in promoting the development and communication of transparent outcomes to students. This has helped in taking the focus from the content to learners. According to Hussey and Smith (2003), there is need to exercise caution when adopting the product model, to avoid over prescription in presenting the learning outcomes. The author asserts that student motivation has been accepted as an important aspect in learning.

Consequently, instructors should start salvaging outcomes and initiate a process of structuring them in a more flexible and broad manner. This will not only allow students to take part in demonstrations, but also appreciate that learning can be a source of joy and even pleasure. However, it is crucial to note that such learning outcomes pose challenges in evaluation.

According to Knight (2001), the use of process models is more beneficial as compared to the use of product models. The author bases his argument from the complexity theory. The complexity theory advocates for the right amalgamation of the constituents including conditions, messages, and process right from the initial stages. The theory assumes that when things are done in the right way from the beginning, then the end result will be of good quality.

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When product model is considered the in the perspective of the complexity theory, then it means that the choice of the model should be accompanied by an initial consideration of the objectives of the teaching or learning activities. Therefore, the development of the curricular and/or module learning outcomes should only be done after the goals or aims of such a program has been considered.

Besides the process and product model, there are also various specific models that could be beneficial to a learning program. These additional models could be used as a group or singly. Different educational contexts like secondary, tertiary, and adult education have spurred the development of different curriculum models. However, majority of these models are not static and can therefore be used in a wide range of settings. Some curriculums models may become more specific with time. In such an eventuality, the models may be called ‘designs’, that is subject-centered designs.

According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2004), planning is a very crucial aspect of curriculum development. “Although there exists many curriculum models, most are categorized as either technical or non-technical” (Tyler, 1949, p. 34). The simplification of categorization is comparable to the product and process models classifications. The simplification of the curriculum development approaches into the two models is not meant to be an end themselves but rather a means of distinguishing the distinctive approaches. Consequently, this distinction is mainly for convenience of studying the subject; hence need to be cautious with respect to referring the approaches as either helpful or harmful.

Curriculum development through a technical approach is perceived by its proponents as logical and effective procedure for setting the goals of an education system. According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2004), critics of the non-technical approach point out its prejudice, subjective, aesthetic and over focus on the learner. It has been touted that it is similar to the process model.

Contrasting between Technical-Scientific and Non-Technical/Non-Scientific

Technical/Scientific Non-Scientific
Curriculum as plan or blueprint Questions assumptions of technical approach
Definable process Questions universality/objectivity
Usually pre-ordained objectives It stresses personal, subjective aesthetic nature of curriculum
Emphasis on efficiency Focus on learner
Criticised as too linear View learning as holistic
Example is the Tyler model Students as participants
HE Literature 2ndLevel Literature 2ndLevel Literature HE Literature 2ndLevel Literature HE/FE Literature
Product1 Technical-Scientific Tyler (1949): Four Basic Principles
Backward Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2010)

Cognitive Thought Model

Performance or systems-based approach

Traditional or Discipline Based Curriculum (Structure of knowledge/subject)

Cognitive Approach

Subject-Centered Design Constructive Alignment

Attributes/ Competency Based
Broad Fields
Discipline Based
Correlation Designs

Theme Based Curriculum

Process Non-technical The Deliberation Model: conversational approaches
Post positivism models
Experiential or personal relevance

Social critical approach

Learner-Centered Design

Problem-Centered Design

Negotiated Curriculum
Process-Based curriculum Design
Problem/Enquiry-Based Models

Source: O’Neill (2010)

There are numerous diverse curriculum models in the technical-scientific approach. In 1949, Tyler produced an original piece of writing that has been categorized as falling in technical-scientific approach. Comparatively, his model is similar to the product model and is the base on which current learning outcomes are built. On the contrary, Backward Design Model backed by Wiggins and McTighe (2010) strays from technical-scientific approach. However, this model is has been widely adopted by the professionals as it associates with the notion of competences and graduate characteristic. The Irish people have adopted this approach and frequently use it to design their curriculum (O’Neill, 2010).

Two Examples of the Technical/Scientific Approach

Example: Tylers (1949) Four Basic Principles Backward Design Model (Wiggins & McTighe, 2010)
Define the purposes of the curriculum Draws from Architecture, engineering and educational design
Define the educational experiences related to the purposes Commences with a statement of end-points
Define the organization of these experiences What do you want students to know, do…(discipline and non-discipline)
Define the evaluation of the purpose What evidence will be collected to assess the success of the curriculum

Likewise, there are various different curriculum models in the non-technical. As opposed to the technical-scientific approach that focuses on the content, this approach is focused on the learner. Ornstein and Hunkins (2004) argue that because learners are subjected to contents that have been chosen tentatively, it is only them can attest whether the content was valuable in the first place by finding it useful. Models that are more student-centered would support this approach. Currently many higher education programs have embraced this approach especially in the later years of their programs. It is crucial to find ways of strengthening the approach so that it can be useful to many students.

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According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2004), there exists a break between the freedom enjoyed by learners to decide their learning preference and the way learning is imposed. This is addressed by the deliberative model. The model suggests a participatory approach of learning whereby the student is involved in the planning of curriculum. This plan may be adjusted as need be depending on the feedback sessions.

The post-positivism models also follow this approach but with more freedom for the learner. They advocate for minimal interference from the instructors. They even support the occurrence of chaos so that order may be achieved. According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2004), students are encouraged to seek new and deeper understandings through encounters with information that they do not necessary have to agree with. However, it is problematic to make records in this approach without prescription. Still, the approach offers an opportunity to learners by permitting occurrence of unanticipated and innovative learning.

Examples of Non-Technical/Non-Scientific Approach

The Deliberative Model Post-positivism Models
Focus on how select content, procedures and questions one would employ Embrace uncertainty, chaos allowing order to emerge
Reality exists in circles, not linear steps Curriculum should help students search for instabilities
Draws on systems theory Usually, these do not result in a specified model but emphasize the social and emergent quality of curriculum
E.g: Hunkins conservation approach

Toohey (2000) describes the main curriculum models in a context that holistically encompass knowledge, goal expression, content organization, and evaluation against available resources.

Experiential Model (Toohey , 2000) Social critical Model (Toohey , 2000)
Believe in importance of personal relevance and learning from experience Aims at development of critical consciousness in students in order that they become aware of the present problems of society and be encouraged to lessen them
Adults learn in order to be able to do, solve problems, live life in a more satisfying way Content drawn from significant social problems of the day
Curriculum organized around life situations Collaborative group work/projects
Authentic assessments

Various curriculum models are structured to accommodate the information processing ability of students either as individuals or as groups. There is a difference between models that support processing of information in a cognitive way and those that are more social. Lately, there has been a new trend in curriculum development has emerged in which structuring of curricular is done around challenging yet key areas in a program. These key areas have been referred to as threshold concepts by some authors such as Land, Cousin, Meyer and Davies (2005). Technical/scientific approaches seem to have made this approach more popular. “For example, in the curriculum development for computer Science, programming is now considered as a threshold concept” (Tyler, 1949, p. 34). Looking at these models more deeply from the perspective of Subject-Centered or Learner-Centered Models is a different way of probing the models. Various means by which these designs are approached are listed below:

Subject-Centered Designs

Discipline Based It is centered on the conceptual structures of the discipline and informs the work of people in the discipline.
Broad Fields They merge several disciplines into an interdisciplinary subject area i.e. either allow more correlation, integration, and holism. It is used more predominantly in social sciences, humanities, and in the sciences.
Conceptual Clusters Broad Fields can have clusters. It is more predominant in sciences, society , and technology
Theme-Based Emphasis is on the importance of finding patterns or relationships between concepts. It is based on culture and experiences.

Learner-Cantered Designs

Negotiated Students within some boundaries of the available resource negotiate what they will or need to learn. There is use of learning contracts and a variety of assessments.
Process Based The emphasis is on the learning process, i.e. critical thinking, retrieval of information, and it is less on content. The assessment should reflect on the learning process
Integrated Curriculum Design that encourage integration of the concepts across, within, and to future knowledge (Fink, 2003)
Problem- Based Curriculum The process of the working towards understanding how to solve a problem results in learning. The learning process entails students facing the problem at the initial stage.

For students with capacity to make sound decisions, Learner-Centered designs are the preferred model of choice. In most cases, the model is used for mature students in programs like Postgraduate studies. Nevertheless, if there is no limitation of resources, this model may be adopted for use by students in lower levels than Master. The assumption that lower level students cannot make sound decisions may be challenged in such an eventuality. It might even be possible to test the feasibility of the model in an undergraduate program. It is recommended that professional programs should use Problem-Based learning model. However, this model is not limited for use by the professionals.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In conclusion, there is no ideal model and therefore no single model can address the needs of a full program. Therefore, curriculum developers must strike a balance in their chose of their preferred model among the many alternatives. Their choice is influenced by various factors including but not limited to; their perceptions of socio-political forces impacting the school, their philosophical orientations, their access to educational and technical support for the program being contemplated, and perhaps their conception of the student learner. Whether their approach is technical-scientific or nontechnical/non-scientific, curriculum developers seek to develop educational content, experiences, and environments that will meet schools’ objectives, goals, and aims.


In order to achieve best educational outcomes for students and other stakeholders, curriculum developers should encompass the views of different models into their design. In developing their curricular, the students for whom the curriculum is being planned must be considered first. Curriculum development should be able to meet the needs of all communities from local to national. In this regard, it is recommended that curriculum developers must engage in a needs and task analysis.


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Hussey, T., & Smith, P (2003). The Uses of Learning Outcomes. Teaching in Higher Education, 8 (3), 357–368.

Knight, P.T. (2001). Complexity and Curriculum: a process approach to curriculum-making. Teaching in Higher Education, 6 (3), 369-381.

Land, R., Cousin, G., Meyer, J., & Davies, P. (2005). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (3): implications for course design and evaluation. Web.

Marsh, C. M., & Willis, G. (2007). Curriculum: Alternative Approaches, Ongoing Issues (4th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2010). Understanding by Design: A brief introduction. Center for Technology & School Change at Teachers College, Columbia University. Web.