Ralph Tyler and Experiential Learning

One of the courses I'm taking this semester is a curriculum studies course, which I'm finding fascinating and applicable to both my past and future professional work. This past week, we looked at the work of Ralph Tyler, among others, and I found myself quite taken with Tyler's four guiding questions of curriculum development:

  1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?
  2. What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?
  3. How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?
  4. How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained? (Tyler 1970)
These questions seem almost intuitive to me, probably because of my teacher training program and subsequent teaching experience, but I don't believe I've ever read Tyler before; I think I had just absorbed these questions as the keys to better understanding my teaching.

As part of the class discussion, it was mentioned that although Tyler's questions are still in wide-spread use, they belong to a more traditional school of curriculum development and are out of place in experiential models, but I disagree with this idea. In my last teaching position at a Project Based Learning (PBL) school, the basic template we all used to create our projects and units relied on similar information to that whichTyler found vital; the driving question lead to the experiences that we designed, the needs of the students (and the tangible needs of the lesson) shaped the way we moved forward, and rubrics played a major role in assessing student achievement and growth throughout the process. 

Even Dewey advocated for systematic planning and careful consideration of context and outcomes; I don't believe linear thinking built around core driving questions is out of place in the experiential or experimental classroom. After all, without structure and focus, as Dewey points out in his 1938 Experience and Education, experiences can fall as flat as "traditional" teaching.


Dewey, J. (1938).  Experience and education. New York, NY: Touchstone. Retrieved from http://ruby.fgcu.edu/courses/ndemers/colloquium/experienceducationdewey.pdf

Tyler, R. W. (1970, c1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.


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