Thursday, October 2, 2008

The SPICES Model: Educational Strategies in Curriculum Development

Ronald Harden developed a model that places the curriculum of a medical school along a spectrum of six educational strategies (1). This model, known as SPICES (an acronym for the six strategies) can be used in curriculum planning and development, in resolving problems within a curriculum, and for guidance in teaching methods and assessment. Teachers can use this model in curriculum analysis, review and development. This entry will look at an overview of the model.

Harden came up with this model after recognizing that newer medical schools were adopting innovative teaching methodologies when compared to older and more established programs. For example, McMaster University has been a leader in innovative educational developments, using student-centered learning, integrated teaching and community-based curricular models. They do so to meet the needs of the community in which their graduates will serve, and in which they are themselves located.

The six curriculum issues fall as follows:

Student- centered ----------------------- Teacher-centered
In a student-centered approach, students take more responsibility for their learning. In a teacher-centered approach, the teacher is the key figure and there is an emphasis on formal lecture or laboratory.

Problem-based ------------------------- Information gathering
This contrasts a model of learning based upon problem-solving to develop a usable body of integrated knowledge and problem-solving skills versus one that stresses the acquisition of facts, concepts and principles.

Integrated ------------------------------ Discipline-based
Integration is the organization of teaching mater to inter-relate subjects taught in different academic courses or departments. Discipline-based teaching centers around focus on classical coursework, such as anatomy or physiology, with clinical care coming later in the program.

Community-based -------------------- -- Hospital-based
Though this relates more to medical education than chiropractic education, the traditional hospital-based approach focuses teaching within the main teaching hospital, while community-based education allows students to receive their training in a community setting.

Electives -------------------------------- Standard program
Electives give students the opportunity to select subjects or projects of their own choosing, while in the standard program all the courses have been prescribed and all students must pass through them with little chance to find subjects of their own choosing.

Systematic ------------------------------ Apprenticeship-based (or opportunistic)
The traditional medical approach involved apprenticeship training where a student trainee would be “bonded” to a “master” and acquire skills by working for him (think House, MD on television). In a systematic approach, a program is designed for all students so that the experiences for their training are therefore covered.

All medical and chiropractic colleges can locate themselves somewhere along the continua noted above. Harden himself notes that it is not possible to state where along each spectrum would be the best location. And he further notes that positions at the extreme right or left of each strategy are likely not appropriate. But he does feel that these strategies offer teachers many advantages. I will take that up in a future post.


1. Harden RM, Sowden S, Dunn WR. ASME Medical Education Research Booklet No. 18. The SPICES Model. Med Educ 1984;18:284-297

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