product approaches to education

Product approaches are derived from ways of thinking that are common in industry and commerce.

When using product approaches we start out by trying to define closely what sort of output or product we want to make. If we were manufacturing a car, for example, we would do some market research (identify needs); make plans (of the car, its production and marketing); implement the plans; and then check whether what we have produced matches our original objectives. It seems so sensible and is a very common way of going about things. We can see the sense in it if we are trying to make something concrete like a car. We need a plan that people can have access to, so that they can go off and make their particular part so it will fit with other parts.

We can find this product approach in the way that many people talk about curriculum in schooling. A curriculum is just one way of organizing the work of educators. It is a proposal for action - something we build before the educational encounter. The figure below shows a fairly common approach to planning a product curriculum.

Planning the product curriculum

Step 1: Diagnosis of need

Step 2: Formulation of objectives

Step 3: Selection of content

Step 4: Organization of content

Step 5: Selection of learning experiences

Step 6: Organization of learning experiences

Step 7: Determinatino of what to evaluate + of the ways + means of doing it.

Taken from Hilda Taba (1962) Curriculum Development: Theory and practice, New York: Harcourt Brace, page 12.

Product-based approaches tend to involve working on, not with,  people. The focus is on changing individuals in ways set out by others. It entails teaching them the skills and attributes which employers, politicians and opinion leaders hold to be desirable. Sadly, this orientation has spread beyond settings such as schools and colleges. Many of the activities that play, youth and community education workers are responsible for are now product-oriented. Programmes such as the Youth Achievement Awards, and targeted efforts to tackle crime, truancy, drug usage, under-achievement, unemployment and social exclusion are examples. They may well employ some of the techniques of informal education. They can even appear to be informal education. However, they are not. They are not driven by dialogue. Anti-conversational and anti-democratic tendencies mean that product approaches are incompatible with informal education.

infedcov.jpg (18462 bytes)Taken from Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith (2005) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.

© Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith
First published November 1999. Last update: July 08, 2014