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The Learning Paradigm - Barr and Tagg (1995)
……the ‘instructional paradigm’ confuses a means (instruction)
with an ends (learning).
……a college’s purpose is not to transfer knowledge but to
create environments and experiences that bring students
to discover and construct knowledge for themselves, to
make students members of communities of learners that
make discoveries and solve problems.
What is the Learning Paradigm?
“Learning about Solving Authentic
Decisions & Taking Technology as tool
Student Centred for enhanced
Responsibility Learning in a learning
Learning as Respect for
“Active Cognition” Affective Factors
Teacher as Focus on ‘Multiple
Mentor/Coach Learning Styles’
Learning Focused Innovation
• Student Centered • Open-Mindedness
• Action Orientated • Forward Looking
• Outcomes-Based • Reflective
• Collaborative Learning • Continuous Improvement
• Life-Long Learning • Quality Processes
• Common Goals • Say what we mean
• Open Communication • Do what we say
• Mutual Support • Honesty
• Win-Win Attitude • Sincerity
• Respect Differences • Transparency
Willimon and Naylor (1995) presented their readers with
this reflection from a senior at the University of Michigan:
So you get here and they start asking you, “What do
you think you want to major in?” “Have you thought
about what courses you want to take?” And you get
the impression that’s what it’s all about – courses,
majors. So you take the courses. You get your card
punched. You try a little this and a little that. Then
comes GRADUATION. And you wake up and you look
at this bunch of courses and then it hits you: They
don’t add up to anything. It’s just a bunch of courses.
It doesn’t mean a thing. (1995)
Willimon and Naylor’s student was essentially passing
judgment on the way most HEIs answer the fundamental
questions that need to be continually asked of any
• What should students be learning and doing across the
• What do students bring to the curriculum?
• How do students experience the curriculum?
• How do we know that learning is taking place and what
elements of the curriculum are making a difference in our
Like many questions in education, these ones are so often
ignored because they are so important.
The dominant understanding of the term curriculum in
higher education has been strongly linked to that of
syllabus and knowledge fields.
These understandings see curriculum as a body of
knowledge to be transmitted (Smith, 2000), and the link
with the concept of syllabus has meant that more traditional
conceptualisations of curriculum have also become
synonymous with the idea of a “teaching plan”.
In many HEIs today, the term “curriculum” has come to
mean little more than “…a basket of instructional
bricks to be stacked in any order” (Tagg, 2003: p.25).
Programmes themselves are frequently little more than a
collection of courses that are “delivered” and on which
content is “covered”.
Harvard Professor and Dean of Harvard College, Harry
Lewis, has thrown light on the reasons for this:
…universities have forgotten their larger educational role
for college students. They succeed, better than ever, as
creators and repositories of knowledge. But they have
forgotten that the fundamental job of undergraduate
education is to turn eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds into
twenty-one- and twenty-two-year-olds, to help them
grow up, to learn who they are, to search for a larger
purpose for their lives, and to leave college as better
human beings. (2006)
What should teachers teach? What should students learn?
Content-Driven & Teacher-Centred Outcomes-Based & Learner-Centred
1. Organising & Teaching Content 1. Designing Learning Experiences
2. Learning About Content 2. Facilitating Learning
3. Assessing Knowledge 3. Assessing ‘what students can do
with what they know’
Curriculum needs to begin where it ends – with the
learning of individual students and with the
learning of academics and educators about how this
can best be realised.
The starting point for teaching staff in higher education
is not to follow the latest trends in curriculum renewal; it
is to uncover our own beliefs and assumptions about
learning, teaching, assessment and curriculum.