The Hidden Curriculum

The term ‘hidden curriculum’ refers to an amorphous collection of implicit academic, social, and cultural messages, unwritten rules and unspoken expectations, and unofficial norms, behaviours and values of the dominant-culture context in which all teaching and learning is situated. These assumptions and expectations that are not formally communicated, established, or conveyed stipulate the ‘right’ way to think, speak, look, and behave in school. Since the hidden curriculum invisibly governs academic achievement, it is vital for every student to learn its lessons.

Boston University

Journal Article: Raso, A., Marchetti, A., D’Angelo, D., Albanesi, B., Garrino, L., Dimonte, V., … & De Marinis, M. G. (2019). The hidden curriculum in nursing education: a scoping studyMedical Education. 53(10), 989-1002.


The hidden curriculum is a learning dimension made up of culturally acquired, unintended lessons. Work by Hafferty identified the formal, informal and the hidden curricula. The hidden curriculum in health professional education enables students to develop their own professional identity.


To map the nursing education literature about the hidden curriculum and to identify and verify to which of the four areas suggested by Hafferty:

  1. Institutional policies
  2. Resource allocation decisions
  3. institutional slang
  4. Evaluation


Conducted a scoping review (more info here in the difference between a scoping review and systematic review).

Research Questions

  1. What did authors write about the hidden curriculum in nursing education?
  2. Which of the areas suggested by Hafferty are they referring to?


18 research articles included. Many focused on what was learned through the hidden curriculum in supernumary status, learning professionalism, eithical violations in clinical practice, near-peer learning, care of patients and patient education situations.

The hidden curriculum of Institutional policies was most commonly identified, with professional ethical values of the nursing profession. However, for nursing education, there were preferential treatment, students seen as ‘pairs of hands’, and workforce orientation rather than education-orientated clinical learning environments. An Interesting discussion on how language impacts a caring approach, through the use of dehumanising language. And then feedback to provide evaluation comparing performance to expected standards and how this is shared with learners.


When we look at the influence of culture, how does the rules and policies impact of the particular workplace or education environment influence and impact on the learners? What hierachies and learned behaviours exist in these environments? How does this impact and influence on the development of professional identity? What learning curricula is operation in my learning environment? What is taught explicity or hidden, what is learnt, what is assessed and how, and what is experienced? What is evaluated?

And just to highlight the hidden curriculum is not a new concept, the phenomenon was identified at the end of the 19th century.

Take a read of this education article from Martin, J. R. (1976). What should we do with a hidden curriculum when we find one?. Curriculum Inquiry6(2), 135-151.

Additional Resources

Billett, S. (2002). Critiquing workplace learning discourses: participation and continuity at work. Studies in the Education of Adults, 34(1), 56-67.

Nursing Education Network. (2020). Exploring Informal Learning Among Hospital Nurses.

Nursing Education Network. (2019). Workplace Learning.

Nursing Education Network. (2017) Workplace Training: Informal learning?