Return to MAIN (index) page Return to ASPECTS of LEARNING page What is a Curriculum?


In The Curriculum, the first textbook published on the subject, in 1918, John Franklin Bobbitt said that curriculum, as an idea, has its roots in the Latin word for race-course, explaining the curriculum as the course of deeds and experiences through which children become the adults they should be, for success in adult society. Furthermore, the curriculum encompasses the entire scope of formative deed and experience occurring in and out of school, and not only experiences occurring in school; experiences that are unplanned and undirected, and experiences intentionally directed for the purposeful formation of adult members of society.


To Bobbitt, the curriculum is a social engineering arena.  He proposed that “experts” would best be qualified to design curricula based upon their expert knowledge of what qualities are desirable in adult members of society, and which experiences would generate those qualities.


In keeping with his time, Bobbit talked of the curriculum in terms of the deeds-experiences the student ought to have to become the adult he or she ought to become.  Hence, he defined the curriculum as an ideal, rather than as the concrete reality of the deeds and experiences that form people to who and what they are.


Contemporary views of curriculum purport to reject these features but retain the basis of curriculum as the course of experience(s) that forms human beings in to persons.


Although it formally appeared in Bobbitt's definition, curriculum as a course of formative experience also pervades John Dewey's work (who disagreed with Bobbitt on important matters). Although Bobbitt's and Dewey's idealistic understanding of "curriculum" is different from current, restricted uses of the word, curriculum writers and researchers generally share it as common, substantive understanding of curriculum.





In formal education, a curriculum is the set of courses, course work, and content offered at a school or university. A curriculum may be partly or entirely determined by an external, authoritative body (e.g.: the National Curriculum in English schools)


Hence, curriculum can mean two things: (i) the range of courses from which students choose what subject matters to study, and (ii) a specific learning programme. In the latter case, the curriculum collectively describes the teaching, learning, and assessment materials available for a given course of study.


Currently, a spiral curriculum (or tycoil curriculum) is promoted as allowing students to revisit a subject matter's content at the different levels of development of the subject matter being studied. The implied constructivist approach proposes that children learn best via active engagement with the educational environment, i.e. discovery learning.  (A crucial aspect for learning, understanding by stimulating the imagination, is absent in the so-called "neo-conservative curriculum" that stresses rote learning.)


Crucial to the curriculum is the definition of the course objectives that usually are expressed as learning outcomes and normally include the program's assessment strategy. These outcomes and assessments are grouped as units (or modules), and, therefore, the curriculum comprises a collection of such units, each, in turn, comprising a specialised, specific part of the curriculum. So, a typical core curriculum might include literacy (or communication skills), numeracy, information technology, and social skills units, with specific, specialised teaching of each.





A core curriculum is a course of study, which is deemed central and usually made mandatory for all students of a school or educational system.  (National Curriculum)


Is there a place for choice?


Many educational institutions are currently trying to balance two opposing forces.  On the one hand, some believe students should have a common knowledge foundation, often in the form of a core curriculum; on the other hand, others want students to be able to pursue their own educational interests.





Bobbitt, J. F. (1918) The Curriculum. Boston: Houghton Mifflin


Based on Wikipedia entry: (accessed 9.03.2009)



See also:

Curriculum Models

Curriculum Concepts

Factors affecting curriculum design

Quality Assurance & the Curriculum


Designing Schemes of Work