Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ralph Tyler Curriculum Design

Frank Libbi
Curriculum Evaluation
Dr. Jay Dugan
July 8, 2009

The American educator/scholar Ralph W. Tyler (1902-1994) was closely associated with curriculum theory and development and educational assessment and evaluation. Many consider him to be the "father" of behavioral objectives, a concept he frequently used in asserting learning to be a process through which a person attains new patterns of behavior.
Ralph Tyler is considered to be one of the most influential people in American education in both the fields of education and evaluation. He served on or advised a number of bodies that set guidelines for the expenditure of federal funds and influenced the underlying policy of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Tyler chaired the committee that eventually developed the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). (
His long and illustrious career in education resulted in major contributions to the policy and practice of American schooling. His influence was especially felt in the field of testing, where he transformed the idea of measurement into a grander concept that he called evaluation, in the field of curriculum, where he designed a rationale for curriculum planning that still has vitality today; and in the realm of educational policy, where he advised U.S. presidents, legislators, and various school leaders on new directions and improvements for public schooling. (Tyler, Ralph W. 1949. Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.)
Tyler continued to cultivate his ideas on the rationale, using it in a syllabus for his course on curriculum and instruction and eventually publishing it in 1949, under the title Basic Principles of Curriculum Instruction. In the rationale, Tyler conceived of school action as moving across a range of concerns that speaks to school purposes, the organization of experiences and the evaluation of experiences. His basic questions are now famous:
What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?
What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?
How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?
How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?
The rationale also highlighted an important set of factors to be weighed against the questions. Tyler believed that the structure of the school curriculum also had to be responsive to three central factors that represent the main elements of an educative experience: (1) the nature of the learner (developmental factors, learner interests and needs, life experiences, etc.); (2) the values and aims of society (democratizing principles, values and attitudes); and (3) knowledge of subject matter (what is believed to be worthy and usable knowledge). In answering the four questions and in designing school experience for children, curriculum developers had to screen their judgments through the three factors. (Kliebard, Herbert. 1970. "The Tyler Rationale." School Review 78 (2): 259 - 272.)
While working with various departments at Ohio State in an effort to discover better instructional methods, Tyler began to solidify his belief that true learning is a process which results in new patterns of behavior, behavior meaning a broad spectrum of human reactions that involve thinking and feeling as well as overt actions.
This reasoning reveals the hidden distinction between learning specific bits and pieces of information and understanding the unifying concepts that underlie the information. Tyler stressed the need for educational objectives to go beyond mere memorization and regurgitation. Indeed, learning involves not just talking about subjects but a demonstration of what one can do with those subjects. “A truly educated person”, Tyler seems to say, “has not only acquired certain factual information but has also modified his/her behavior patterns as a result.” (Thus, many educators identify him with the concept of behavioral objectives.) D. W. Robinson, "A Talk with Ralph Tyler, " in Phi Delta Kappan 49 (October 1967)
After leaving the University of Chicago in 1953, Tyler became the first director of the Advanced Center for Behavioral Science at Stanford University, a think tank for social scientists that Tyler founded with private monies. He formally retired in 1967, taking on the position of director emeritus and trustee to the center and traveling educational consultant.
Given the longevity of his career in education and wide-ranging influence of his work in the policy and practice of public education, especially in the realm of curriculum development and testing, Tyler could very well be seen as among the most influential of figures setting the course for the American public school during the second half of the twentieth century.
After his retirement, Tyler maintained an active life as a lecturer and consultant. He was a visiting professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and he advised on evaluation and curriculum in Ghana, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel and Sweden. Tyler was reported to have remained strongly optimistic about the future of education, right up until the end of his life. Tyler died of cancer on February 18, 1994 at the St. Paul's Health Care center in San Diego. He was 91.

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