Prof. Jay Dugan
Ralph W. Tyler’s Curriculum Design: Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction
Ralph W. Tyler began his career as a science teacher but quickly parlayed his interest in education to a research focus of teaching and testing. He worked with the Progressive Education Association (PEA) on an experimental project termed the Eight-Year Study (1930-1942). Investigation into the disparity between high school graduates and college entrants prompted an exhaustive voluntary study of thirty public high schools. Then, in 1949, what began as a course syllabus for Professor Tyler at the University of Chicago became a groundbreaking book on curriculum titled Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction.
Tyler’s book is textbook material for curriculum developers. The book is segmented into four parts, each tackling an essential question—what educational purposes should the school seek to attain, how can learning experiences be selected which are likely to be useful in attaining these objectives, how can learning experiences be organized for effective instruction, and how can the effectiveness of learning experiences be evaluated.
As an educator in 2010, I felt transported. Tyler’s hypotheses, insights, and recommendations are still practiced today. In fact, within the pages of such a small volume were the inceptions of present-day reality—standardized testing, curriculum articulation, school accountability, to name a few. In summary, Tyler advocates the development of clear educational objectives followed by student opportunities to learn. Then, the third step in the curriculum development process is organization through continuity, sequence, and integration and objective, reliable, and valid evaluation of the educational objectives as seen in student learning.
Essential Question Explanation
What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?
“…the criteria by which materials are
selected, content is outlined, instructional
procedures are developed and tests and
examinations are prepared” (3) Studies of the learners themselves and contemporary life outside the school
needs and interests of the students
practical application beyond school
Clear and serve the lifelong learning of each
Identifies gap between where the student is and
where the student should be
Particularly delineate the task and the behavior
How can learning experiences be selected
which are likely to be useful in attaining
“The term ‘learning experience’ refers to
the interaction between the learner and the
external conditions in the environment to
which he can react. Learning takes place
through the active behavior of the student; it
is what he does that he learns, not what the
teacher does” (63) Building upon what the educator knows of the
student, he/she can provide an environment
to stimulate the desired type of reaction.
Understand that not all students come to the
classroom with the same shared knowledge
Address through various efforts and styles a
differentiated instruction to meet the student
where he/she is.
Stimulate inductive, deductive, and/or logic
thinking and create the situations where the
student can explore his/her reaction to the
Rather than provide a litany of facts for
memorization help the student to use
resources to obtain information.
How can learning experiences be organized for effective instruction?
“Important changes in human behavior are
not produced overnight…In some respects
educational experiences produce their
effects in the way water dripping upon a
stone wears it away…In order for
educational experiences to produce a
cumulative effect, they must be so
organized as to reinforce each other” (83) Build continuity (vertically), sequence
(scaffold), and integration (horizontally).
Weave the threads (objectives) in an organized
plan to achieve the expected learning
outcome, using one of three methods—the
lesson (single day discrete unit), the topic
(several days or weeks), or the unit (several
weeks organized around problems or major
How can the effectiveness of learning experiences be evaluated?
“…checked against various criteria derived
from educational psychology and from
practical experience” (104) Evaluation is the process for determining the
degree to which changes in student behavior
are actually taking place.
Align assessment directly to educational
objectives and learning experience.
Evaluation is a process; trials of different
assessments bring to light the best and most
effective method to evaluate a change in the
student’s learning outcome (ie. portfolio,