Curriculum Theory By Ralph Tyler and it's implication for 21st Century Learning

Throughout time adaptations have been made to curriculum design to create models that provide a system that achieves optimal educational outcomes. The pioneers and forefathers of curriculum design have provided foundational understanding of methodological approaches while simultaneously providing principles of practice. Procedures outlined by various curriculum designers are often critiqued for their effectiveness and practicality. Despite the validity of such investigations it is certain that constructed curriculum designs of educational masters have contributed to current schemes and tactics that are utilised by institutions of today.

Ralph Tyler is an educational pioneer whom sought to develop a set of rules to guide teaching and instruction. Tyler proposed a curriculum design that was sequential and systematic. For this reason, the model developed by Tyler is often referred to as the ‘Linear Objectives’ model. The ‘Tyler Model’ can be described as “an explicit set of procedures for planning which is based upon a scientific-rational approach” (Marsh, 1997, p.18).

In Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (1949), the author Ralph Tyler recommends that “educational goals be derived from an analysis of the subject” (Glatthorn, 1994, p.21) and content. His formula of educational design was revolutionary and provided purpose to educational practice. However, in his approach he disregards contextual influences, personal needs or prior learning of students. Nevertheless, his work became a bestseller for it struck the heart of educators who sought clarification of educational aims. His findings have significantly influenced curriculum and the process of instructional design. The success of his model has undoubtedly shaped the curriculum of today and therefore, his findings are worthy of discussion and evaluation. Critique of the model developed by Tyler is warranted because the ‘Linear Objectives’ model “short changes how teachers actually deal with their classes. It fails to consider how they deliberate and negotiate as they plan and implement curriculum” (Brummelen, 1994, p.235).

Before analysing ‘Tyler’s Model’ it is advantageous to consider the contributors to curriculum. Often those involved in curriculum design influence the various components of curriculum due to their personal values, intent and pedagogy. Governments are among the leading organisations and political groups that are responsible for developing the framework, content and curriculum implemented by educational institutions.

There are numerous stakeholders of curriculum and it is certain that conflict of interest and values arise from having many agencies contributing to curriculum design. For this reason, it is almost impossible to achieve a consensus on a finite definition of curriculum and it is certain that neither agreement nor settlement can be made on one singular design for curriculum. It is, however, commonly perceived that curriculum drives what is taught and learnt by students. It is my professional belief that designed curriculum enables teaching professionals to improve student performance and enhance the strategies that are employed to transfer content. Furthermore, the employed approach strongly influences the degree of learning and to what extent the program encompasses all participants.

Tyler had an agenda when constructing a curriculum design. His personal set of beliefs and understandings impacted his final design and approach. The ‘Tyler Model’ is methodological and systematic as conveyed in Figure 1. The procedural steps almost seem like a formula and hence are considered scientific in orientation.

The curriculum design prescribed by Ralph Tyler outlines a simple formula and consists of four key thoughts:

1. What are the educational purposes that a school should seek to attain? (Educational Objectives.

2. What learning experiences can be selected to fulfil the educational objectives? (Learning Experiences.

3. How should the learning experiences be organized to achieve the desired outcomes? (Organisation of Experiences.)

4.What assessment and evaluation techniques can be used to determine the success of the implemented curriculum? (Assessment and Evaluating.)

Figure 1 – The ‘Tyler's Model' renown as the Scientific Method

According to ‘Tyler’s Model’, the first step of course design is crafting the desired outcomes of the curriculum. Secondly, learning experiences are designed and then activities scaffolded to develop knowledge and yield success. The achievement of the program is determined by evaluation and assessment conducted at the conclusion of the unit. According to this model the process is not re-evaluated or restructured to create a more successful documentation, curriculum or framework. Reinvention and improvement is a valuable practice and necessary to drive productivity and successful practice.

The scientific design would infer educators are responsible for predetermining the desired outcomes of students with limited consideration of the needs, values, social constructs and prior learning of participants. This approach is considered as narrow-minded according to Harro Van Brummelen (Brummelen, 1994, p.235). I would support this thought of contention, for teaching and learning are interdependent and the success of students is determined by the degree of participation and involvement because knowledge is not neutral as assumed by Tyler (Brummelen, 1994, p.235).

Although the ‘Tyler’s Model’ provides a “checklist of things that curriculum planners must do at some point”, as an entirety the linear approach has shortfalls because it fails to recognize the active role students themselves play in determining curriculum structure (Brummelen, 1994, p.235). Students are not passive learners but rather active participants in acquisition of knowledge. Therefore learning should be “...nurtured, rather than taught” (Glatthorn, 1994, p.28) as reflected in a ‘Linear Method’ calculated by Ralph Tyler and those supporting a technical orientation.

Tyler’s Model overlooks the role students’ play in the ownership of their learning and the extent to which their acquired knowledge is meaningful (Glatthorn, 1994, p.28). For this reason, curriculum modifications are necessary to ensure that student needs are attended too. Unprecedented technological progress demands for education to train people who are prepared for the twenty-first century (Marsh, 1997, p.18). In result, curriculum design continually needs to be reshaped and modified to provide systems that accurately cater for contextualised circumstances.

Tyler does not account for the necessary changes to curriculum. His proposed model has been identified as ‘Linear’ and thus performs no actual process of action research, modification or readjustment. Other curriculum designs, such as Seels and Glasgow’s model, are cyclical and suggest that education should enhance teaching and learning pathways to improve the standards accomplished by all participants.

In my opinion, there is need for reinvention and ‘Tyler’s Model’ fails to recommend change to ensure programs are cutting edge and designed to prepare individuals for a world stage. To ensure graduates are equipped with the skills and strategies needed to be creative and productive members of society it is necessary to embrace social change and modify programs to cater for the needs of students. Therefore, curriculum should be shaped with consideration of student requests. It would be fair to assume that according to the ‘Tyler Model’ that social and cultural evolution is not considered.

“There have been all kinds of priorities put forward including citizenship demands, personal development priorities and vocational training pressures. There have also been various pressures ranging from practical, school-focused approaches to curriculum and curriculum development; theoretical perspectives of different kinds of technical, scientific management approaches” (Marsh, 1997, p.3).

According to Marsh, consideration needs to be given to a “cross-section of interests” when developing curriculum and that planning needs to be flexible and not be “typically goal-directed” (March, 1987, p.17). Furthermore, Marsh states that curriculum must be tailored to “new complexities... interactions and relationships” (Marsh, 1987, p.19) and should not be limited by predetermined objectives.

In the opinion of Colin J. Marsh, the curriculum model proposed my Tyler does not account for necessary modifications. For example, Tyler’s scientific method has not considered learning impairments or the need for individualised programs to cater for those whom do not function within the main stream classroom.  Echoing the opinion expressed by Marsh, is theologian Harro Van Brummelen.

In Brummelen’s writing, he identified the need for holistic education and pointed out that technicians using ‘Tyler’s Model’ seldom ask, “...what kind of person [should] students... become” (Brummelen, 1994, p.233). Furthermore, Brummelen believes that the model derived from Tyler is “skewed” (Brummelen, 1994, p.233) because the educational process is presented as a cognitive concept without consideration of worldview or inherent values. Brummelen also explains;

“[‘Tyler’s Model’] ...downplays the importance of creative expression, skills that are not psychomotor ones, and dispositions and commitments. It distorts or excludes goals like understanding, appreciation, and sensitivity. Indeed, its process-oriented approach may prevent students from getting a coherent view of the world.”

In the opinion of Brummelen, the linear approach is mechanical and overlooks the consequences of treating students as part of a process and formula. The systematic approach also limits the creativity of teachers and fails to regard them as professionals who can adapt lessons to accommodate for needs and change. Teachers should deliberate and negotiate curriculum before assessing and evaluating student’s performance.

Tyler’s model has limitations. While it does provide valuable insight into basic curriculum design, it fails to recognise the valuable contribution that students can make to curriculum to guarantee that their learning is meaningful. Teachers also make essential modifications within their practice to accommodate for necessary demands and a prescriptive and scientific method may appear good in theory, yet it a practical sense its short comings become apparent. Furthermore, Tyler’s model fails to place value on the process and value of learning and instead stresses the attainment of knowledge and achievement of outcomes.

Currently, school effectiveness is determined by performance standards and indicators ( This recent development within Australia has been legislated by government and seems to have created true disorientation in regards to professional practice and educational demands and desired future direction. While schools have made significant advancement in constructing curriculum that caters for individual needs, abilities and contextual contexts, governmental influences are directing educational institutions toward a scientific approach as developed by Tyler. It would appear that teaching practice has returned to where it has been. Clash of curriculum interests shall instigate renewed debate and influence educational reform.

In conclusion, governments favour linear models because workers can be held accountable for their performance and the success of implemented programs can be easily determined. In result, government expenditure can be assessed and evaluated. Furthermore, standardised tests provide measures to rate success of students and the attainment of objectives. Scientific approaches to curriculum design as developed by Tyler provide organisation and control. While, these qualities are desirable it comes at the expense of actual learners who are not central to the focus of educational purpose. True education has emotional, social, physical and spiritual needs of students at heart and not simply intellectual ones (Brummelen, 1994, p.245). Websites developed to provide transparency in education actually provide a disservice. In my view, accountability measures such as  drive curriculum into being objectives driven and goal orientated as opposed to teaching for the love of learning.


Marsh, Colin, J. 1997 Planning Management & Ideology – Key Concepts for Understanding Curriculum. Volume Two. Falmer Press.
Brummelen, HV.  1994. Steppingstones to Curriculum. Alta Vista College Press, Washington.
Glatthorn, AA.1994 Developing a Quality Curriculum. Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. USA.


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