Approaches to Curriculum Evaluation Part I: Scientific vs Humanistic Approach

Curriculum evaluation is the process of collecting data in order to make decisions about the curriculum in question. Curriculum can mean a host of things. It could refer to a particular subject such as 7th grade reading, it could refer to a particular grade such as 8th grade in general, it can also refer to an entire school such as elementary or secondary school. As such, one aspect of curriculum evaluation to consider is the scope or what is being evaluated.

There are meaning different approaches or ways of seeing curriculum evaluation. For whatever reason, approaches to curriculum evaluation are always explained in extremes. In this post we will look at the following approach to curriculum.

  • Scientific vs Humanistic Approach to Curriculum Evaluation

Scientific Approach

The scientific approach is probably the oldest approach to curriculum evaluation as it dates from modernism and the emphasis on the scientific method of the 19th to 20th century. This approach to curriculum evaluation focuses on using quantitative data generate by the learners. This allows for statistical analysis. Furthermore, the results are compared in order to determine the level of success. This comparison is at the heart of decision-making when this approach is employed.

There are natural issues with such a heavy emphasis on numerical data. For one, the students narrative is missing. A lickert scale analysis is not as rich in content as an interview. Another issue is the assumption of similar circumstances. The diversity in student ability and even in teaching ability makes it difficult to assume that students are facing similar challenges and circumstances.

Humanistic Approach

In a more post-modern worldview the Humanistic approach looks at the individual rather than the numbers. Data is much more qualitative in nature. The rationale behind this is that life has multiple perspectives to it and quantitative data only provides one perspective.

Humanistic evaluators want to understand the complexities of the environment they are assessing. This involves capturing narratives through interviews and focus groups. Observation is used not to count frequencies but to take notes of what is happening in the classroom.

The major issues with this approach is the smaller sample size that is required. It is not feasible to interview 400 students but perhaps 20 is doable. In contrast, conducting a survey with 400 students should not be a challenge for a scientific evaluator. Furthermore, there are questions as to the objectivity of the results.

Since qualitative data is processed by the researcher their own perspective can filter what they report when they share the perspective of the respondents, In contrast, scientific approaches are more objective in that computer processes and reports the results.


Instead of having a bias towards scientific or humanistic approaches to curriculum evaluation. It is better to look at the context of what needs to be evaluated and determine the most appropriate approach. It should be the context and not the preference of the evaluators that should decide which direction to take. In many situations, a mixture of both approaches may be appropriate but this involves much more work and complexity.


3 thoughts on “Approaches to Curriculum Evaluation Part I: Scientific vs Humanistic Approach

  1. Pingback: Approaches to Curriculum Evaluation Part II: Intrinsic vs Payoff Approach | educationalresearchtechniques

  2. Pingback: Evaluation Models Part I: Stake’s Congruence-Contingency Model | educationalresearchtechniques

  3. Pingback: Approaches to Curriculum Evaluation Part I: Sci...

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