Expressing Learning Outcomes

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[1]WHAT ARE THE MAJOR TOPICS IN THIS COURSE? Create a thematic structure for the course.

  • Identify the 3-7 major ideas, topics, or themes in the course.
  • Place them in an appropriate sequence.
  • If possible, these should build on one another and result in a culminating project that, integrates the ideas, topics, or themes.


[2] For many lecturers in Further Education, syllabus content will already be expressed in competence-framework terms, including learning outcomes, performance criteria and range statements. However, many such frameworks have been written primarily for awarding bodies, bureaucrats and lecturers rather than in language that students themselves can understand and make use of. The following suggestions may help you to extend the benefits of expressing and clarifying learning outcomes to your students, and to the assessment schemes you devise to assess their achievements.

  • Collect examples of ways that other people express, learning outcomes. For. example, look for learning outcomes close to your own field as expressed In other universities, and in Open University modules. You may often find that other people. Have already done much of the work In converting a list of topics into well-explained learning outcomes, which you can adapt or adopt in your own course.
  • Work out exactly what you want students to be able to do by the end of a defined learning element. You may well have been trained to do this as part of the process of making lesson plans, and you may well be working with syllabus content that is already' expressed in terms of learning outcomes or objectives. Nevertheless, it is often worth thinking again about the exact intentions, and working out how these connect together for different parts of students' learning.

Express learning outcomes in terms of actions. Try to explain what lies behind phrases such as 'will be able to understand ... ,' or 'will know .....” The words you choose' to describe learning outcomes should be such that students themselves are enabled to tell exactly what the intentions are.

  • Don't write too many learning outcomes. One of the dangers of trying to express syllabus content in terms of learning outcomes is that it is dangerously easy for the some of the outcomes to be trivial ones, even when they are things that students are required’ to be able to do.

Don't be too prescriptive. Rather than spell out learning outcomes in an attempt to describe everything that students should become able to do, it is worth keeping Some of the outcomes more generic, and illustrating them with a 'for example' rider, rather than spelling out all the possibilities. This, allows you to bring in more 'for examples .... as you think of them, as you work with students.

  • Work out the associated evidence. Think about how students will be required to demonstrate their achievement of the learning outcomes in terms of what they will be able to use to show that they

have succeeded.

Don't overdo the evidence! There is wide agreement that students tend to be over-assessed, and that they are required to produce too much evidence to demonstrate each particular element of competence. It is better to choose the most appropriate kinds of evidence carefully, than to list at the possible kinds of evidence which may relate to each learning outcome.

Work out performance criteria. Decide how students' actions and evidence can be judged and assessed. Formulate these criteria in words that can be understood by students themselves. rather than phrasing them in the sorts of academic language that are too often present already in published syllabus specifications or competence-based frameworks. Work out descriptions to help students see how much evidence, and what kinds of evidence they need. These are sometimes called 'range statements" and the intention is to help students know what they need to do in terms of extent and standards to meet performance criteria, and to demonstrate that they have achieved learning outcomes.

Provide students with the whole picture. Put the student-centred language descriptions of learning outcomes. Performance criteria and range indicators into student handbooks, or turn them into a short self-.contained leaflet to give to students at the beginning of the course. Where the contents Ire based on published specifications (such as those for GNVQ and so on), include the original specifications as an Appendix, so that students can see where the details have been derived from. This leaflet or handbook component should serve students as a map enabling them to navigate their own way through the learning programme as they study. Ensure that students don't reel swamped by the enormity of the whole picture While it is important to provide the picture (as explained above), there is a danger that the picture can appear very daunting. Especially It the beginning of a course, Students need to be guided carefully through the picture in ways that allow them to feel confident that they will be able to succeed a step at a time.

  • Where possible, provide alternatives. Rather than requiring students to demonstrate their achievement of each part of the competence framework separately, look for tasks 'which embrace a number of different learning outcomes and performance criteria at the same time, so that students' work, and your assessment of it, will not go into overload.
  • Select learning outcomes, performance criteria and 80 on, and relate them to individual class sessions. Relate them similarly to cacl1 studet1tassignment, and each learning task. Students need to know how each thing they are doing fits into the overall picture of their course or module.Don't concentrate on learning outcomes to the exclusion of learning processes. The processes dimension gives the added value to learning outcomes. Paying increased attention to the processes increases the probability of the learning outcomes being achieved in ways that are flexible and transferable. Don’t be put off the learning outcomes approach by all the bad examples that are around. I the fact that many published outcomes-based schemes are in existence, where the outcomes are badly phrased; or simplistic; ambiguous, does not mean that the approach is an ineffective one. Put the learning outcomes to use.
  • Don't leave them fossilising in the course validation documentation or the student handbook. Tell students about which outcomes they are working towards in each lecture tutorial, and assignment. The learning outcomes are devised for the benefit of students, and need to be made to work well as part of bow they find out exactly what they should be trying to achieve. Make sure that students know when they have achieved learning outcomes, and can recognise them as things they have added to their range of skills, and can build on them. It is also useful to explain to employers about the use of learning outcomes, illustrating them with relevant examples, and listening to suggestions that employers may offer about additional things that could be included as learning outcomes.
  1. Dee Fink. Expressing Learning Outcomes.
  2. Sally Brown, Phil Race and Brenda Smith, 500 Tips for Quality Enhancement, 1997
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