Ralph Tyler's Little Book
Even though Ralph Tyler (1902-1994) published more than 700 articles and sixteen books, he is best known for a "little" book known as The Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (Ornstein and Hunkins, 1998). This 128 page book was originally published as the course syllabus for his Education 360 class in 1949 (Tyler, 1949). Tyler's straightforward philosophy presented in this book was, and continues to be highly influential in the field of Education. Through this book he is able to concisely outline a series of basic steps for developing curriculum.
No description of this book however, could be complete without first placing it within history. This book and much of Tyler's career stemmed from his famous Eight Year Study. But before an account of this study is made, a portrayal of the educational theory of the day must first be described.
Tyler and the Educational Theory of the Day
Prior to 1900 education had little to offer in the way of theoretical framework (Wilburg, 1998). The belief at the time was that schools should require strong discipline and that "children should not talk to one another; all communication should be between the teacher and the class (Tyler, 1975)." A popular curricula of the day centered around McGuffy's Readers, which taught American ideals and morals (Ornstein and Hunkins, 1998). John Dewey's influential books School and Society and Interest and Effort in Education were published just after the turn of the century, but their influence had yet to take hold.
This was the state of education as Ralph Walter Tyler was born in Chicago in 1902. As Ralph Tyler enters high school in Nebraska, war breaks out (Riles, 1995). World War I, as it soon would be called, would have a dramatic effect on education. It was in 1917-18 two million men were to be deployed as a organized fighting force. The U.S. Army was able organize this force because it had developed something we are all very familiar with today "the test." The Army Alpha Test was used to determine who of the two million would be selected for officer training (Tyler, 1975).
Following the introduction of the Army's intelligence test, a "Testing Movement" in education, became established and spread throughout the United States. Even though the use of printed tests began in 1845, with the Boston School Committee, testing in general had not yet been popularly used until this time (Worthen and Sanders, 1987). The Army's Intelligence tests were just a beginning. Soon achievement tests were developed and within a decade more than five million tests were being administered annually (Tyler, 1975).
For his master's thesis Ralph Tyler even developed a science test for high school students. His graduate work at the University of Chicago put him in close contact with many notable educational scholars of the time. Dr. Tyler's views of testing soon changed though. He saw testing and "the holes in testing for memorization" (Riles, 1995) as a problem to study for life. His work in this type of evaluation prepared him for later work on a controversial project called "The Eight Year Study."
The Eight Year Study
Tanner and Tanner describe this study as "The most important and comprehensive curriculum experiment ever carried on in the United States..." (Tanner and Tanner, 1995). This study was the result of what has since been called the progressive education movement. High schools of the time experimented with curricula based on the writings of John Dewey. In 1916, Heard Kilpatrick, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia introduced what he called "the Project method." This methodology engages the student in a number of projects. The projects he defined as "a purposeful activity carried to completion in a natural setting (Tyler, 1975)." Many such methodologies were produced and evaluated.
Critiques of the progressive evaluations were not favorable. Critics believed that students educated in this manner would not fair well in college (Worthen and Sanders, 1987). Thus was born the controversial Eight Year Study. This study compared students from thirty high schools which used progressive curricula to students from thirty schools that used the more conventional Carnegie-unit curricula. These schools were located from Los Angles to Boston (Tanner and Tanner, 1995).
Ralph Tyler's role in The Eight Year Study was as the director of the evaluation staff of the study (Tyler, 1975). Tyler conceptualized the objectives-based approach to educational evaluation (Worthen and Sanders, 1987). In their report on The Eight Year Study, Smith and Tyler provide an evaluation manual that positively affects millions for generations to come (Smith and Tyler, 1942).Much of Tyler's philosophy was conceptualized during this study. It was then that Tyler developed many of his ideas. But as mentioned earlier Tyler's most famous work was his "little" book Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. This book is famous because it captures and concisely describes his philosophy in simple logical terms.
Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction
Tyler divided his book into five sections. Each of the first four sections is titled with a question.
- What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?
- How can learning experiences be selected which are likely to be useful in attaining these objectives?
- How can learning experiences be organized for effective instruction?
- How can the effectiveness of learning experiences be evaluated?
The fifth and final section describes "How a school or College staff may work on curriculum building."
In the first section, Tyler mentions that one of the main problems with education is that educational programs "do not have clearly defined purposes." These "purposes" as he describes them should be translated into educational objectives. This objective-based approach to evaluation is at the core of what Tyler proposes.
His approach to evaluation followed these steps :
1. Establish broad goals or objectives.
2. Classify the goals or objectives.
3. Define objectives in behavioral terms.
4. Find situations in which achievement if objectives can be shown.
5. Develop or select measurement techniques.
6. Collect performance data.
7. Compare performance data with behaviorally stated objectives.
Discrepancies in performance would then lead to modification, and the cycle begins again (Worthen and Sanders, 1987).
Ralph Tyler's philosophy is very similar to contemporary views in many ways. He also describes education as "an active process". "It involves the active efforts of the learner himself." Even still he was also obviously influenced by the Bobbit's ideas of Job Analysis and Behaviorism (Tanner and Tanner, 1995). Tyler early on in the book describes the education as a "process of changing the behavior patterns of people." The "Tylerian" view of evaluation then becomes a process of the determining the educational effectiveness of learning experiences (Bloom, Madaus, and Thomas Hastings, 1981).
Tyler's Influences on Education Since 1949.
Since publishing this book in 1949, Tyler's ideas have had a profound influence on American Education. His ideas influenced others in two ways. The first of these was through direct instruction through his book Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction.. Secondly the individuals with which Tyler directed during The Eight Year Study went on to become notable figures in the field of Education. Noteworthy of this group are Benjamin Bloom and Hilda Taba (Tyler, 1975). These two went on the make profound changes themselves.
Following the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik I in 1957, money began to poured into education (Worthen and Sanders, 1987). Soon congress began to ask educators to be accountable for federal moneys. Thus a rebirth of educational evaluation studies began. This rebirth gave new life to Tylerian evaluation. In the late 1960's and 1970's refinements to the Tyler's approach were developed. Examples of these are the approaches by Metefessel and Michael, Hammond and Provus (Worthen and Sanders, 1987).
Perhaps, Tyler's greatest gift to the field of education was the development of an objectives-based evaluation model. Tyler to this day has been called "the father of behavioral objectives." Even if a major implementation of his ideas was not realized the 1960's and the works of his predecessors Bloom and Mager (Wilburg, 1998), we are still all indebted to Tyler's vision and his not so "little" book.
Bloom, B. S., George F. Madaus, and J. Thomas Hastings. (1981). Evaluation to Improve Learning. McGraw-Hill, Inc.
Mager, Robert. (1962) Preparing Instructional Objectives. Palo Alto: California: Fearon Publishers.
Ornstein, Allan C. and Hunkins, Francis P. (1998) Curriculum Foundations Principles and Issues. Needham Heights, MA.: Allyn and Bacon
Riles, Phillip (1995) The Riles Years [Online]. Available: http://wredu.com/~wriles/Tyler.html [1998, September 18]
Smith , E.R., and Tyler, R.W. (1942) Apprasing and recording student progress. New York: Harper and Row
Tyler, R.W. (1949) Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction . Chicago: University of Chicago
Tyler, R.W. (1975). Educational benchmarks in retrospect: Educational change since 1915. Viewpoints. 51(2):11-31
Tanner, Daniel and Tanner, Laurel (1995) Curriculum Development Theory into Practice. 3rd Ed. Columbus, OH.: Prentice Hall
Wilburg, Karin M. (No date) An Historical Perspective on Instuctional Design: It is Time to Exchange Skinner's Teaching Machine for Dewey's Toolbox? [Online]. Available: http://www-cscl95.indiana.edu/cscl95/wiburg.html [1998, September 19]
Worthen, Blaine R. and Sanders, James R. (1987)Educational Evaluation : Alternative Approaches and Practical Guidelines. White Plains, N.Y. Pitman Publishing Inc.