Learning outcomes play a foundational role in the course design process. They describe to both instructors and learners, and the academic community what a learner should know and be able to do by the end of the course.

A learning outcome is that there’s a fair amount of controversy around a very topic. For me, I find it’s a good guide. It points to a direction as to where you want to take your learning and your teaching. It helps in developing more specific objectives, and also, it’ll help check that your assessment and coincide with what you’re trying to teach.

Outcomes-based education is interesting in terms of higher education in Ontario. 

It’s not new to education. Before I did my Ph.D., I did a certificate to teach English as a second language and a Bachelor of Education. We always talked about our outcomes. 

We had carefully developed outcomes for language learners in any classroom. So when I got to higher education, the second nature to me was to use outcomes. When I looked at the research literature, it reinforced all the things I’ve learned in my previous education – very learner-centered, that’s the first thing we know about outcomes-based education.

Even those who use them in the sense that they knew ahead of time, what they wanted students to do, and they assess those things at the end. One of the most recent emphasis is that it makes it more transparent to know what you expect from them right from the goal.

It’s a really good way to communicate with students – what the expectations are of a course, but it’s also a really good way to let the students know that they have an active role in a course (write that as learners).

Students are not going to be passive

Students are not going to be passive, but there are these outcomes that they are responsible for achieving. It’s a way of saying to students that I’ve put much thought into a course, and I’ve thought about the kinds of things you will get out of it. So if you do the kinds of activities that I’ve designed, you stay on top of the work. This is what you will get out of it for me. At least it helps me talk to other people in my department to reduce redundancies and overlaps and maximize progression and connectivity. 

I think it makes for better well as a curriculum person

It makes for better linking and laddering so you can link horizontally and ladder vertically. If you’ve got overarching curricular outcomes, outcomes-based education ties learning outcomes to the assessment or ties. I should say the other way around – ties assessment and learning outcomes, so you’re assessing to determine whether or not the outcomes articulated at the beginning of the course of study, the program of study have been achieved.

It’s very clear for the student and a teacher, and other stakeholders in the education system. For example, the public, parents, government, employers – all these people can say without a doubt, yes, the outcomes have been achieved, or no the outcomes have not been achieved. Therefore learning hazard has not taken place.

It has been usesful

Learning outcomes have been useful mainly because I’m a statistician, not a computer scientist. When I’m teaching courses in computer science, it’s quite beneficial for me to know what’s expected of the students by the time the course is complete. 

I think it’s great about us focusing on learning outcomes. It is that it highlights a whole second side of the teaching profession. What I mean by that is that I study memory and human memory. One of the first things we always tell everybody when talking about human memory is that there is no single thing called human memory. 

Human Memory System

There’s multiple memory systems for different things. We do one system for information – holding information but a very different system for learning, playing basketball, karate, or guitar, anything that involves skills, and repetitive behavior.

We learn that in a different way. An example I would like to give is that you can learn a lot about karate in an hour seminar, but you can’t learn to do karate in an hour seminar. You have to do that by successively repeated practice.

The learning outcomes framework

The learning outcomes framework highlights that when we’re in the classroom, we want to teach content, knowledge, and information that students can get from the class. They can get that from the book, but we also want to teach all these skills, critical thinking, creative thinking, self-reflective thought, communication. Those we have to teach differently. We have to come up with ways of giving students structured repeated practice with those skills.

You know, by highlighting those as being, there’s like five of them for the one content kind of thing. We’re finally getting some balance. When I’m working with an instructor who wants to look at a course redesign to make it into a blended course or even start from scratch creating a blended course, e-learning outcomes are probably the place that I would start. Because in terms of the overall philosophy of our center around course design, we feel that having very articulate well defined learning outcomes for the students is really the key and guides the instructor in that they realize what is truly important for their students in the course. 

My Verdict

Learning outcomes are an interesting topic because they’ve only become a popular topic very recently, yet we’ve been teaching forever. So how did we manage successful learning before we got to the point of deliberately articulating our learning outcomes? The process can help students and teachers make a better selection of course content and topics that they want to cover in the course.

That’s an interesting question for another day. Still, the learning what I’ve found is that now that we are focusing on learning outcomes, what are those, what those allow for is the deliberate building of your course activities, your learning opportunities, your assessments, and it even the objectives themselves you have to take a moment to decide exactly what is it that you want students to have achieved to be able to demonstrate at the end of the course.

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