17 April, 2013

Curriculum Theory Synopsis: Experiential Curriculum Theory

Experiential Curriculum Theory

The experiential influence on curriculum in America can be traced back to the 19th century and is most notably associated with proponents that include Rousseau, Dewey, and Evers.  The primary focus of experiential education was to include within the general curriculum an element of individual development that was arguably missing from the more traditional approach that focused specifically on intellectual and social development.  The process to infuse curriculum that included material that addressed individual development proved difficult and ultimately centered on an attempt to include activities and experiences that students showed an elevated interest in (Posner, 2004).

Ives and Obenchain (2006), while conducting research on the effects that experiential education had on higher order thinking in secondary schools, established three critical elements that experiential education-based curriculum should adhere to,
First, learning should include opportunities for student-direction.  Second, learning through EE [Experiential Education] includes curriculum connections to the real world.  Critical reflection is the third essential element of EE and permeates every aspect of an EE program... an internalized inquiry process (p.65).
Richard Gibboney (2006) argued in a reflective article about the influences of Edward Thorndike versus John Dewey on school reform that theory and ideas proposed by John Dewey have been set aside from curriculum in the 20th century.  Ives and Obenchain (2006) mirrored this concern and attributed it to a narrowing of curriculum as lead by the essentialist or back-to-basics movement similarly influenced by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.  Both authors encourage educators to continue to adhere to experiential theory and attempt to influence curricula to encourage better educational experiences for students.


Ives, B., & Obenchaini, K. (2006). Experiential education in the classroom and academic outcomes: For those who want it all. Journal of Experiential Education, 29(1), 61-67.

Posner, G. (2004). Analyzing the curriculum (3rd Ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Gibbony, R. A. (2006, October). Intelligence by Design: Thorndike versus Dewey. Phi Delta Kappan, 88(2), 170-172.

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