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Curriculum theory

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"Curriculum theory" is a term for how an educational institution decides what is at worth to learn and teach, and how learning will be measured. Pedagogy is closely related to curriculum theory, but where pedagogy describes how people teach and learn, curriculum describes how people decide what to teach and learn. Moodle is capable of supporting a variety of different curriculum theories and pedagogies.


The mission of Moodle is "Empowering educators to improve our world." Moodle strives to help educators to provide quality education around the world. But first, we have to answer an important question: “What is quality education?” We can’t measure what we haven’t defined. But this is a very difficult question to answer-- in fact, there is not just one single answer. The answer can differ depending on time and place, and most people work with more than one of these definitions. Here are some things “quality education” might mean. They are all valid. Some are much harder to measure than others, but that doesn’t mean the hard things are less important. In fact, they may be MOST important.

  • The best students will be identified and will become scholars
  • All students will demonstrate essential competencies
  • All students will develop lifelong learning habits and skills and pursue their own goals
  • All students will be included and will commit to community ideals and action

There are many ways to categorize curriculum theories, but this structure serves as a useful reference:

Source of knowledge
Objective reality Academic
Students become scholars
Traditional teaching
Students develop lifelong learning habits
Learner centered
Subjective reality
Students achieve competencies
Workplace training
Students commit to ideals and take action
Transformational learning
Social constructivism
Use of knowledge

For more information, see Curriculum Theory: Conflicting visions and enduring concerns by Michael Schiro.

In this structure, an educational program (or teacher) can be aligned with any of these four curriculum theories, and most are aligned with more than one at any given time. The alignment can change over time, and by context. These are just terms used to reference the educational priorities currently in effect.

The important thing to note is that each curriculum theory aligns with a specific pedagogy, and this has implications for choosing teaching strategies, assessments, program evaluation criteria, learning analytics models, etc. Moodle provides a wide variety of tools to support these different curriculum theories.


An institution focused on an Academic curriculum has the following goals:

  • Student capabilities will be accurately measured
  • Student grades follow normal curve
  • Students graduate on time
  • Top students pursue academic careers

Every community needs to be able to identify and encourage its own scholars. Moodle supports the growth of local scholars in many ways, especially by providing a flexible Assignment module that can accept a wide variety of files, incorporating Advanced grading methods like Rubrics and Marking Guides to support consistency in grading. Files can be annotated online by the teacher, and comments can be exchanged between teacher and student.

Moodle also supports external academic honesty and reference checking tools like Crot and TurnItIn, often requested by academic institutions to help teach good scholarship practices. Moodle provides tools requiring students to agree to academic codes of conduct when first logging in or when submitting particular assessments.

Moodle provides a detailed Quiz statistics report that provides psychometric analysis of individual quiz questions. This helps to ensure that quizzes are assessing students accurately and fairly.

Learning analytics for this perspective might focus on features of the program, rather than the individual students, although advising students of where they rank in the program may also be appropriate. Note that there can be consequences to this notification-- students who are not ranked highest may become discouraged.


We don’t want to focus only on the highest-potential students. We also want to make sure that all students (or as many as possible) achieve essential competencies. In this case, we have different tools, targets and process indicators. In this curriculum theory, the institution prioritizes these goals:

  • All students complete course
  • All students master designated competencies
  • All students obtain jobs

Moodle includes a wide range of “Personalized Learning” tools to allow courses and materials to be tailored to individual needs, taking into account each learner’s prior knowledge and skills:

The Students at risk of dropping out learning analytics model uses the target of continuing participation in learning. This target was chosen because it makes few assumptions. Final grades or summative assessment results are often not stored in Moodle, and many institutions do not yet use Moodle Competencies or Course Completion Criteria. Only success criteria that are stored in Moodle can be used to train a model.


We also know that we don’t want to focus only on “schooling.” We hope to encourage students to continue to learn throughout their lives, in both formal and informal environments. This involves helping students develop “metacognitive” skills, such as finding and evaluating information, self-regulation, and the ability to self-assess skills and knowledge. Learners have their own personal goals as well, which we need to respect. These targets and indicators are especially important when trying to use learning analytics in MOOCs, which students enroll in for many different reasons, with different success criteria:

  • Learner Centered
  • Each learner’s own goals are reached
  • Each learner is satisfied
  • Each learner improves in capabilities over time

“Checklist” is a third-party Moodle plugin that allows learners to specify their own goals and target dates, as well as allowing them to self-evaluate on those goals. This is one kind of feature we need to help assess self-directed learning capacity. We can use the Feedback tool to capture learner satisfaction data and comments, including site-wide feedback tools set up on the site front page and accessed in each course via the Feedback block. We might also integrate goal-setting with external calendar and reminder systems, or help learners “gamify” their own personal goals. (It is also possible to create a personal goal registry like this using Database, though the completion bar would require custom CSS.)

We might consider making self-assessment a measured skill, e.g. by using the Workshop Submission/Self-Assessment feature. This feature measures assessment skill compared to a mean of peer and/or teacher scores, and assigns a separate grade for assessment skill as well as a grade for the main task.

Portfolio tools are often used to help learners curate and compare samples of their work to see progress over time.


In the Idealist curriculum theory, we stress the inclusion of all students and social constructivist learning.

  • All students participate fully in the course (are not marginalized)
  • All students commit to ideals
  • All students carry learning to the real world

We believe learners adopt new ideals through open dialogue and engagement, and Moodle provides robust Forum tools for supporting discussion.

However, the commitment to such ideals in the real world can’t be measured within the constraints of a course or training program. To follow up with learners “in the real world,” we might need a tool like this third-party Moodle module, “Reengagement”. This tool contacts learners at a specified time after an event, asking them to return to the course to complete additional activities.