I came across this quite useful presentation the other day on the web. It raises some key critical questions about learning outcomes (LOs) and also reaffirms what are seen as the central elements of an LO approach. One of these much stated central elements is that LOs must be measurable.
It might seem that in some of my last blog posts (see here and here) I have not dealt with, or have chosen to ignore, this golden rule of LOs. I have suggested that more emphasis should be given to deriving broader learning outcomes based on developing the values, attitudes and beliefs of learners as much as their content knowledge. But I have not made any comment on the ‘measurability’ of these broader types of outcomes.
From a petulant perspective I want to say ‘why should they be measurable? Why can’t we just forget about that?’ But then they probably wouldn’t be LOs would they, they’d be more like aims and goals. I guess a learning outcome can only be an outcome if there is something produced by the learner that can be observed by another (and hence is measurable by that other too).
And yet it is this emphasis on externality and quantifiable outputs that keep LOs at the performative level and why arguments will continue to be made about them restricting learning and stifling creativity.
But we don’t have to work to the assumption that different types of LOs are mutually exclusive, i.e. that if we have measurable LOs we can’t have broader LOs, and vice versa. We could have the broader type of LOs that I mention above that then feed into how the more discipline-specific ones are framed, and it is these discipline-specific ones that are in some way measured (assessed). My previous post discusses this point more.
I’m using this blog as a space to reflect on and think further about these ideas – so you may get the impression that my ideas on these issues are not fully formed yet. I believe that LOs can be used in ways that support a more ‘extensive concept’ of HE, but I am also concerned that certain diktats that have either always been there (i.e. that they must be measurable) or have grown around them (i.e. they must be written using certain verbs) throw obstacles in the way. I would now like to move beyond these prescriptions about LOs.
I’m not saying that these elements are not important or don’t have a place. I’m just saying can we go beyond seeing LOs set in stone like that? Can we go beyond narrowing the LOs discourse around prescribed elements and instead open it up for further discussion and refinement? I think the quote from Dillon (2005) below highlights why the discourse about LOs should be broadened rather than narrowed:
A set of learning outcomes, however clear, cannot capture everything about the intentions of the teacher or the learning experience of the student, and neither should it attempt to do so. Outcomes should be seen rather as the key features of a particular learning landscape that are relevant to the purposes of the course. Students will bring to their learning journey different backgrounds, and will travel through the landscape in different ways and at different speeds.