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Perspectives on curriculum design: comparing the spiral and the network models

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Ireland, Jo 
Mouthaan, Melissa 


Does one approach fit all when it comes to curriculum design? In debates on curriculum design, educators have argued that a curriculum model should take into account the differing knowledge structures of different subjects. Subjects such as maths and science are generally defined as well-structured knowledge domains, characterised by a linearity in learning objectives, and well-defined and predictable learning outcomes. Less structured subjects such as the arts and humanities could, however, benefit from models that encompass a different approach to learning. Two competing perspectives on curriculum design have emerged: the spiral model developed by Bruner in 1960, and non-linear models based on processes of learning in different knowledge domains. Research on curriculum design has tended to focus on the needs of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. Many alternative models to the spiral have come from arts-based disciplines, in particular visual arts.

This article contributes to the ongoing debate about curriculum design in different subjects. It details the key characteristics of Bruner's spiral model, and presents the main arguments made in favour of adopting flexible and non-linear curriculum models in specific subjects. We discuss a number of alternatives to the spiral model and analyse the relative strengths and weaknesses of these different approaches. The conclusion offers a discussion of implications of our findings for further research in curriculum design.




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Research Matters

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Research Division, Cambridge University Press & Assessment

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