Outcomes for Learning

Well chosen, clearly expressed, learning outcomes (or whatever you call them) are a joy to read. They also help students learn and teachers teach. By defining the skills and abilities that students should achieve, they can guide and give shape to a course.

However, in the real world, learning outcomes are most often prepared in a hurry (after all there are so many more fun things a teacher should be doing, like banging their head against a metaphorical wall in desperation at the latest nonsense poem foisted on them by dull but devious students in place of crisp and informative prose). Almost always, at least in theology, lists of learning outcomes are prepared by teachers who unconsciously envisage their subject as a load of topics to be “covered”. Content is king, isn’t that what they say?

The result is often lists that are too long. (I think so far 22 items is the most complex I have seen!) Lists itemise all the content areas that might be included. If the course is on the Old Testament prophets, then (self)evidently students should:

“know about:

  1. Isaiah
  2. Jeremiah
  3. Ezekiel
  4. The book of the twelve” (if the person who shaped the outcomes is a trendy modern scholar, if not the old fuddy duddy will have helpfully listed all twelve books.)

Learning outcomes prepared by a committee (as when several colleges need a common set) are even better, for each teacher adds their own pet topics to the topic list. Someone is bound to be an Ancient Near Eastern literature specialist, so the students must see the importance of cognate literatures. Another is into intertextuality, we have to include that… You get the idea.

Now, stage two, if you have learning outcomes, how can you demonstrate they are being achieved by your students? You assess them. All of them, since these are the things every student will have learned!

Just tell me one thing! With such a long complex and content oriented list, how?

One comment on “Outcomes for Learning

  1. Judy Redman

    They only help students learn if the students read them. Often they don’t. :-(

    And maybe it doesn’t happen where you are, but in Australian universities, there will also be a set of generic outcomes like being able to work as part of a team so you may have to either include them or give a very good reason why your course isn’t going to contain them.