Course taster

The product model

The product (or behavioural) model is a common approach to developing a curriculum. It takes on a scientific approach where objectives are set, a plan is drawn up and applied, and the outcomes (products) are measured. In some countries, with the rise of vocationalism and the concern with competencies, the product model has become the dominant model. For example, in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s, many of the debates about the national curriculum for schools were not so much concerned with how the curriculum was thought about as with what its objectives and content might be.

This has now been reformed to consider other aspects, although the dominant discourse remains.

Based predominantly around the work of Franklin Bobbitt and Ralph W. Tyler, the product model revolves around the principle that education prepares people adequately to undertake specific activities. Planning a curriculum therefore requires us to discover the abilities, attitudes, habits, appreciations and forms of knowledge that people need. These then become the objectives of the curriculum, and the curriculum will be the series of experiences that learners must have to obtain those objectives.

In general terms, this involves paying detailed attention to what people need to know in order to work, live their lives and so on. More-specific examples can be found in many training programmes where tasks or jobs are analysed and are broken down into their component elements, with lists of competencies drawn up. In other words, a curriculum is not the result of uninformed deliberation but the product of systematic study.

In the late 1940s, the work of Ralph W. Tyler, made a lasting impression on curriculum theory and practice. He proposed that curriculum development should follow four fundamental steps: establishing learner needs, creating learning experiences to satisfy those needs, organising the experiences for maximum effect and evaluating the overall process to make improvements. He also placed emphasis on the formulation of behavioural objectives.

Since the purpose of education is to bring about changes in learners' behaviour, any statement of the objectives of an institute should be a statement of the changes to take place in learners. This translates into an ordered and systematic approach to curriculum theory and practice:

  1. diagnose needs
  2. formulate objectives
  3. select content
  4. organise content
  5. select learning experiences
  6. organise learning experiences
  7. determine what to evaluate and the ways and means of doing it

A potential weakness with the product model is that it may take something away from learners. They can end up with little or no voice – they are told what they must learn and how they will learn it. They are flooded with information, rather than 'learning how to learn'. Watch this short video and consider if your curriculum lends itself to learner agency:

Learner Agency

View Learner Agency video transcript


Identify strengths and weaknesses of the product model. Make a note of these on your Personal Journal. Aim to write around 400-500 words. Your tutor will not necessarily comment on this: it is just for your own notes (The link to the Personal Journal isn't available in this course taster).