T-Shaped Curriculum

Curriculum Shorts (Some short musings about curriculum)


The T-Shaped curriculum idea can be thought of, quite simply, in this way: the horizontal line of the T represents breadth and the vertical, depth.

The concept is prevalent in design education and also in other ‘progressive’ scenarios with breadth sometimes representing employability and/or multiple intelligences and the vertical as subject expertise. The horizontal line can be seen as transferable skills and the vertical as knowledge and experience. 

Without overcomplicating it, and instead by sticking to the competing notions of breadth and depth, it can be a useful concept can be when thinking about curriculum design. For example, in his book, A Short History of Europe, Simon Jenkins writes:

I disagree with syllabuses that maintain history is better taught in depth rather than breadth. Depth should follow breadth, for without it history is meaningless. Without awareness of the timeline of human activity, individuals become dissociated figures on a bare stage. Those who cannot speak history to one another have nothing meaningful to say. Context – which means a sense of proportion – is everything.

A knowledge-based curriculum could easily become a list of facts, but if a knowledge-rich curriculum is sought then one of the things that can enrich knowledge is knowing the context in which items of knowledge can sit. This context can be extremely broad and, yes, it can cross subject-boundaries (think of the context of modernism, or renaissance, for example) it can be concept-oriented, values-driven or a number of other ways in which we make meaning. Without the breadth, depth can be left bereft.

What is the balance needed between depth and breadth? The answer is context-dependent.

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