The Spiral Curriculum Theory


Various theories have been developed in education to guide the process of imparting knowledge to learners. Education theorists have contributed significantly to appreciating the relationship between human psychology and learning. One of the influential theorists that impacted the field of education was Jerome Seymour Bruner. He was an American psychologist specializing in human cognitive psychology and cognitive learning theory (Metsämuuronen & Räsänen, 2018). Bruner believed that the organization of knowledge played a significant role in how the information is stored and encoded in the learner’s memory. According to Bruner, organizing the knowledge appropriately requires the learner to constantly revisit the topics and familiarize themselves with the content being taught to develop a suitable mode of representation of the knowledge for accurate interpretation (Metsämuuronen & Räsänen, 2018). This notion is referred to as the spiral curriculum theory. The spiral curriculum theory provides a systemic approach to the learning process, enabling the learner to understand the different levels of complexity in understanding a concept.


The main motive for creating this theory was to influence the teaching of structural knowledge such as mathematics, history, and physical sciences. Bruner developed the spiral curriculum theory in 1960 and first applied it in America (Brooks, 2022). This theory aimed at increasing the mastery of the structural concepts by iteratively revising the relevant topics. Revising subjects reinforces the previously acquired knowledge and creates a broader comprehension of the concept (Brooks, 2022). This strategy enhances the mastery of the knowledge being taught and improves memory’s ability to store knowledge for longer periods.

Bruner summarized the spiral theory in four significant features. Firstly, the topics being taught are revisited occasionally within the course period. Secondly, a new level of difficulty is created when issues are reviewed (Brooks, 2022). The new levels are created every time the learner revisits the topic providing new objectives and learning opportunities that contribute to the overall realization of the course. Thirdly, the levels of difficulties create new learnings that relate to the previous learning concepts. Each learning opportunity lays the foundation for a future learning experience, thus creating a spiral of learning interlinked processes. Fourthly, Bruner argues that each visit the student makes to a topic increases their learning competence and overall understanding of the concept (Brooks, 2022). The level of competence is often tested through a course assessment that aims to determine the student’s ability to apply the knowledge acquired in practical situations.

Bruner’s concept of a spiral curriculum is closely related to other theories that were already in existence. Therefore, its values and beliefs were a norm and were readily accepted. Some of the theories that are closely related to the spiral notion include Benjamin Bloom’s theory of taxonomy of 1956 (Bakhtiyarovna, 2022). According to this theory, the learning process is a hierarchy that involves various taxonomy levels with growing complexity and evaluation. Another closely related theory is Piaget’s theory of constructivism. This theory states that knowledge is based on acquired information and previous experience (Brau, 2020). Jean Piaget believed the learning process was only effective if knowledge was built on an existing experience or a previously learned concept. According to Piaget, learning occurs in two processes: accommodation and assimilation (Brau, 2020). Accommodation involves reframing one’s mindset to conform to their environment and adjusting their thinking according to the new experiences. Assimilation is acquiring a group’s psychological and social traits within one’s environment (Brau, 2020). In their theory, Piaget states that the interaction between assimilation and accommodation lays the foundation for developing ideas and experiences upon which learning occurs.

Modern theories emphasize the behavior of the students rather than the learning process. For instance, the idea of behaviorism states that the process of acquiring knowledge is significantly influenced by reinforcing students’ behavior. The positive reinforcement of behavior through offering the students rewards strengthens their behavior and increases their interaction with the stimuli influencing their learning process. Negative reinforcement discourages students from certain practices, which may impact their ability to learn new knowledge from a particular stimulus.


The spiral theory falls under the domain of cognitive psychology. The theory’s foundation is based on the learner’s ability to think and process the given information into different levels of understanding. This theory has significantly impacted modern education by revealing the systematic approach to the learning process that allows learners to familiarize themselves with the simpler concepts and progress to the complex concepts with a strong foundation. Additionally, Bruner’s theory has enabled the education stakeholders to appreciate that learning is a continuous process and simpler concepts play a significant role in understating complex concepts. Before this theory was developed, a curriculum was viewed to be having different unrelated programs that made the learning process appear difficult. However, Bruner’s concept of education reveals the interrelationship between various programs and departments and how they contribute to the achievement of the overall objectives of education (Biesta, 2019). Furthermore, the spiral curriculum enables students to develop higher learning objectives that spin beyond testing the mind’s ability to recall. Instead, students develop an increased ability to interpret the topic and apply the knowledge acquired in real-life situations.

The spiral curriculum has been essential in medicine and mathematics by enabling students to apply the concepts learned in the early phases of their course to complex degrees. For instance, in medicine, learning hormones in the early stages of the course enables students to understand the concept of hormonal disorders in the later stages. In another instance, before acknowledging how genes instruct the cells on how to operate, the learner must familiarize themselves with the structure of the genes and how they are developed. In psychology, the students are first introduced to the general perception of human behavior before understanding the various factors that affect human behavior, such as substance abuse or medication, emotional factors such as personality and beliefs, and social factors such as family and culture. In mathematics and arithmetic, the student must be exposed to simpler numerical operations such as addition, subtraction and multiplication before learning complex operations such as algebra, derivatives, and geometry.

Therefore, the spiral curriculum has contributed immensely to interpreting complex concepts by creating a logical sequence approach in the learning process. This theory has increased the level of research and creativity among students by encouraging them to revisit topics constantly, creating new learning opportunities that expose them to new knowledge (Biesta, 2019). Moreover, this notion is flexible because it allows students to transfer to the next level of complexity based on their apprehension of the previous concepts. Therefore students who have no understood the previous concepts are free to continue familiarizing themselves with the topics, while those who have understood the subjects can graduate to the next level of complexity.


In conclusion, the spiral curriculum theory provides a logical sequence that enables students to comprehend concepts by gradually progressing from simpler ideas to complex subjects based on previously acquired knowledge. This theory reveals the different levels of complexity involved in the learning process by constantly revisiting the subjects to familiarize them with the content that lays the foundation for understanding other related concepts. This theory is ideal for a problem-centered learning education system. Its application requires the effective engagement of learners and teachers to develop an iterative process of revising subjects for a better understanding.


Bakhtiyarovna, B. A. (2022). Application of Bloom’s Taxonomy as a Tool for Increasing the Efficiency of Learning. American Journal of Social and Humanitarian Research, 3(6), 189-192. Web.

Biesta, G. (2019). Reclaiming teaching for teacher education: Towards a spiral curriculum. Beijing International Review of Education, 1(2-3), 259-272. Web.

Brau, B. (2020). Constructivism. The Students’ Guide to Learning Design and Research. Web.

Brooks, M. (2022). Developing Metacognition: Leveraging a spiral curriculum to enhance strategy-learning programming. Web.

Metsämuuronen, J., & Räsänen, P. (2018). Cognitive–Linguistic and Constructivist Mnemonic Triggers in Teaching Based on Jerome Bruner’s Thinking. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 2543. Web.

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