The Troublesome Nature of Learning Outcomes

In higher education learning outcomes are part of the bedrock that informs assessment, qualifications and course approval processes.   They are important statements and as such we should give serious consideration as to the nature of learning outcomes and how we use them. I have a growing sense of unease that we have collectively bought into a set of assumptions about learning, teaching and the nature of knowledge that limits our understanding of the processes involved.  Most particularly, I am concerned about poorly formed and limited thinking that surrounds the conceptualisation and use of ‘learning outcomes’ in third level teaching contexts.There is an instrumental view of learning is dangerously simplistic.  It regards education in industrial terms and hence learning outcomes constitute the produce. Unfortunately this view is pervasive as it seems to fit with the current obsession with economic rationality.  In this bizarre world-view learning outcomes are given numerical value, assigned to levels, added together, divided up, stated as percentages and generally treated as though they were clearly defined, uniform and self-contained entities. Much of the prevailing dogma and practice in higher education supports this commodification model of learning outcomes.  Some of the blame rests with the quality and regulatory processes.   There seems Read More …