Hidden Curriculum a Student Experience

Hidden curriculum refers to "the unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school. While the “formal” curriculum consists of the courses, lessons, and learning activities students participate in, as well as the knowledge and skills educators intentionally teach to students, the hidden curriculum consists of the unspoken or implicit academic, social, and cultural messages that are communicated to students while they are in school" (Education Reform)

I'd like to explore this topic from two different perspectives: the student experience and technology.

The student experience, for the purposes of this post will look at moments of truth. I work for an institution that prides itself on customer service training for all staff and teachers. As educations, we often cringe at the thought of viewing our students as customers, but the truth of the matter is that they are and we are providing them with a service.
I have learned that a moment of truth is at any point the institution and the student come into contact when an impression is made -either positive or negative (Service Excellence)

A first glance at a website, a call to the registrar, a question asked to the teacher are all moments of truth. If the website is poorly designed, if the registrar advises the student incorrectly, or if the teacher does not know the answer to the question or answers with sarcasm, the student experience is negatively affected.

Let's take these same three examples above and explore them through the lens of an older foreign student coming to study in Vancouver.

The website of the institution, showing dominantly does not contain all of the necessary information the student needs to make an informed decision about the classes he or she wishes to take, and they cannot book online. They need to talk to someone. They call the number listed and get an automated menu that does not tell them clearly which option they should select and there is no operator "press 0" option.

When they finally reach someone, who has a strong accent, transfers them to three or four different departments before finally reaching the registrar who tells them incorrect start dates, price, and language proficiency needed because they are confused about what the student wants. Based on this information, the student makes their travel arrangements.

Let's fast-forward to the classroom, where the student is asked to use an LMS like moodle, and create a digital portfolio about their family and their country, which they can share on Facebook. This student has never used any of this before.

The student stays after class to tell the teacher that they have never used any of these before, but is smiling. The teacher jokingly responds, "have you been living under a rock? Don't worry, you'll figure it out. Come during my office hours and we can talk about it."

Stop here for a moment and think about:
  • How many moments of truth have been encountered?
  • What the student must be feeling?
  • What expectations have been placed on the student?
  • What cultural factors have come into play here?
Hidden messages, according to Education Reform, may be conveyed through any of the following areas. Consider the above mentioned example student when reading them. Has the student experienced a "hidden curriculum"?
  • Cultural expectations: The academic, social, and behavioural expectations established by schools and educator
  • Cultural values: The values promoted by schools, educators, and peer groups
  • Cultural perspectives: How schools recognize, integrate, or honour diversity and multicultural perspectives.
  • Curricular topics: The subjects that teachers choose for courses and lessons may convey different ideological, cultural, or ethical messages.
  • Teaching strategies: The way that schools and teachers choose to educate students.
  • School structures: The way that a school or academic program is organized and operated.
  • Institutional rules: The formal rules in a school.
Awareness of the "hidden curriculum" is growing, as with  intercultural communication and
anti-bullying. The education system is evolving into a diverse melting-pot of students from every corner of the world. As educators, it is essential that we consider the student experience holistically keeping the relationship between student, institution, and teacher in mind.

This blog post was inspired by a classmate of mine who introduced me to this topic. I thank her for adding this to my reflective practice and I encourage you all to do the same. Here is a link to her article the hidden curriculum of unethical behavior.


Hidden curriculum (2014, August 26). In S. Abbott (Ed.), The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/hidden-curriculum

Service Excellence (2014). Ontario Tourism Education. Retrieved from http://www.otec.org/Home.aspx


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