Learning Outcome

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Published on November 3, 2008

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‘Learning outcomes’ – do we need them? : ‘Learning outcomes’ – do we need them? Andy Hannan, May 2008 1 Intended learning outcomes for this session : Intended learning outcomes for this session By the end of this lunchtime you will be able to explain to your friends: why we have learning outcomes, with reference to their outcomes; at least three objections to producing a list much like this; where they can get a free lunch courtesy of RHEN. 2 ‘The trouble with learning outcomes’ active learning in HE, 3, 3, 220-233, Hussey, T. & Smith, P., 2002 : ‘The trouble with learning outcomes’ active learning in HE, 3, 3, 220-233, Hussey, T. & Smith, P., 2002 Learning outcomes, and the ideas related to them, are in danger of becoming little more than spurious devices to facilitate auditing at the expense of the educational process. (p 222) … (they) are damaging to education if seen as precise prescriptions that must be spelled out in detail before teaching can begin and which are objective and measurable devices suitable for monitoring educational practices. (p222) … while some academics have embraced learning outcomes, many design their courses or modules by considering the content of the syllabus, the contact time allotted, the level or year, the appropriate texts to be used and the best mode of assessment. They may state their expected learning outcomes if obliged to do so, but this is seen as a chore, rather than a useful exercise. (p224) 3 Three objections to ‘learning outcomes’ : Three objections to ‘learning outcomes’ … their clarity, explicitness and objectivity are largely spurious. They give the impression of precision only because we unconsciously interpret them against a prior understanding of what is required. (p225) … they can be insensitive to the requirements of different disciplines. (p227) … even if students are enabled to interpret them … they may actually restrict the subsequent educational outcomes. (p 228) 4 What can learning outcomes do? What might replace them? : What can learning outcomes do? What might replace them? At best learning outcomes can only be statements about what topic or fragment of the syllabus is to be covered by a teaching session, and what kinds of skills and capacities students will be expected to display in respect to it. The content can be stated more or less precisely; the quality of the skills and capacities can only be grasped from the context. (p229) The way to give guidance to students is to specify the content, level and type of skill and to indicate the quality by comparison to what they have already achieved and with what is taking place in the teaching they are experiencing. This is precise, explicit and objective, but in the way appropriate to skills and abilities, rather than in pseudo-scientific jargon. (p231) 5 ‘Learning outcomes: a conceptual analysis’ Teaching in HE, 13, 1, 107-115, Hussey, T. & Smith, P., 2008 : ‘Learning outcomes: a conceptual analysis’ Teaching in HE, 13, 1, 107-115, Hussey, T. & Smith, P., 2008 … learning outcomes used in individual teaching events .. Are the most useful kind if employed flexibly, but … they cannot be specified exactly or used for auditing purposes, and their relationship with assessment is complex. (p107) Learning outcomes specified for modules or short courses … state little more than a list of contents; they cannot be stated precisely and have limitations in guiding assessment. (p107) Learning outcomes specified for whole degree programmes … is a misuse of the term ‘learning outcome’. (p107) In short, the further away from students and the teacher in a classroom, the more remote, generalised and irrelevant statements of learning outcomes become. (p114) 6 Slide 7: See also: ‘Contested practices: learning outcomes and disciplinary understandings’, Clegg, S. and Ashworth, P. in Satterthwaite, J et al (eds) The Disciplining of Education, Trentham Books, 2004. 7

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