#LTHEchat 147 The Hidden Curriculum with @scholastic_rat

The ‘Hidden Curriculum’ refers to the tacit, unintended, unacknowledged lessons that are passed on alongside the formal curriculum. Education acts as a form of socialisation after all, and alongside the subject matter, we also implicitly inculcate norms, values and beliefs through our practices, language and even the architecture around us.

These implicit ‘moral’ lessons may help to create a positive learning environment and socialise students into the characteristic discourses and practices of their discipline as well as other socially desirable ‘graduate’ attributes,  but they may also more problematically reinforce social injustice and inequality-  invisible lessons about gender, class, sexuality or race. It’s not just a matter of the individual teacher’s practice; as part of the curriculum, the institution and the discipline, it’s also systemic. It could be right there in the way we expect students to write ‘properly’, the personal qualities we reward in our marking schemes, in the phrasing of an assignment or feedback, in the dynamics of a seminar or furniture of a lecture room. Academic Literacies theory tells us that learning takes place in a strongly hierarchical context of power and authority, not just regarding the knowledge that is right and wrong, but about identities and voices that are acceptable.

As the Hidden Curriculum is, well, hidden, it is difficult to engage with, interrogate or contest. Some students with greater cultural capital may pick these invisible lessons up unproblematically, others may find themselves struggling to guess the secret rules of the game or feel a strong sense of dissonance with what is being presented as ‘right’ or ‘natural’. They can be left bewildered and disempowered by mixed messages when in the hidden curriculum clashes with the official one or with their own prior experiences of education. We may ourselves be unaware of these incidental learning outcomes around how a ‘good student’ thinks and behaves, unwittingly passing on our own socialisation, unexamined and unchallenged. Without examining our hidden curriculum, we cannot make deliberate or ethical decisions about what we’re encouraging students to learn.

Are we helping students to enact the necessary epistemological or methodological implications of their discipline in HE, or is it rather about their ability to fulfil socio-cultural conventions which have more to do with class, race or gender than actual learning? The Hidden Curriculum in Higher Education often implicitly demands that students reject their own ways of making and articulating meaning, their own identities and ways of knowing and seeing the world, as being less valid than those of the university, alienating them from their own learning. Could this be contested and diversified?

This tweetchat will explore our encounters with the Hidden Curriculum asking how both we and our students can uncover it, articulate it and, where desirable, challenge it together through a process of emancipatory ‘decolonisation’.


Lea, M. and Street, B. (1998) ‘Student Writing in Higher Education: An Academic Literacies Approach’, Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), pp. 157-172.

Lillis, T. (2001) Student Writing: Access, Regulation, Desire. London and New York: Routledge.

Snyder, B. R. (1970) The Hidden Curriculum. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

Margolis, E. (ed.) (2001) The Hidden Curriculum in Higher Education. London and New York: Routledge.

A brief biography:

Dr Helen Webster is a Learning Developer and head of the Writing Development Centre at Newcastle University. She works in a central, student-facing role across the institution, helping students at all levels and in all disciplines negotiate the complex conventions and practices of UK Higher Education, and reflect on their own study strategies to become successful independent learners.

She is interested in developing interprofessional models and approaches for this emerging profession, particularly around one-to-one work. A qualified teacher, Senior Fellow of the HEA and Certified Leading Practitioner of Learning Development, she is also an executive steering group member for the Association of Learning Developers in Higher Education. She blogs at https://rattusscholasticus.wordpress.com

The Wakelet for this chat will be available here

About Dr Ross Espinoza

Dr Rossana Espinoza is an Online Learning Content Developer at the Centre of Academic Practice Enhancement at Middlesex University, helping staff with active practice based learning, collaborative learning classrooms or social media.  She supports the Staff Development Forum as Communications Officer since November 2016 on a pro bono basis. She is passionate about Education and technology (please note the capital E and lower case t!). (@DrRossEspinoza)
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