The excellent text “Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses: Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning” (1) offers a nice overview of how to set direction on outcomes as the means of recognition of learning. The note that learning outcomes can be developed at the level of a single course, an academic program or the entire institution. And they note that a typical initial response to the question of how you would describe your current teaching goal might be for you to say that you are trying to provide the best course you can, or an opportunity for students to learn. This puts the focus on you as an instructor, rather on the student as a learner. It might be better to think of the answer to that question as based on what your students should know and understand, and what they should be able to do with that knowledge when the course ends.
There are three benefits to formulated intended learning outcomes. The first is that intended learning outcomes form the basis of assessment at the course, program and institutional levels. We have intentions about what students in the program should learn, we develop collective expressions of our intentions, and we then develop our curricula and instructional experiences so that students learn what we want them to. A second benefit is that intended learning outcomes provide direction for all instructional activities. They form the basis of our planning process, and they help us know what your students should look like when they graduate. A third benefit is that learning outcomes informs students about the intentions of the faculty. This can help them best take advantage of the learning opportunities the institutions offers.
Huba and Freed propose a number of specific characteristics of effective intended learning outcomes. They should be student-focused rather than professor-focused. They should focus on the learning resulting from an activity rather than the activity itself. They should reflect the institution’s mission and the values it represents. Intended learning outcomes should be in alignment at the course, academic program and institutional levels; these should like and relate to one another. Learning outcomes should focus on important, non-trivial aspects of learning of importance to the public. Certainly, we would with this for chiropractic health care as taught by Palmer College of Chiropractic. Learning outcomes should focus on skills and abilities central to the discipline and based on professional standards of excellence. We this now with our work on professional standards as taught within the Palmer system. Learning outcomes should be general enough to capture important learning but clear and specific enough to be measurable. Certainly, work by administrative personnel such as Drs. Percuoco, Haan and derby attest to this fact. Finally, learning outcomes should focus on aspects of learning that will develop and endure but that can be assessed in some fashion right now. While we have goals for how our graduates will practice years from now, we need to assess them right now, right here.
In the end, we need to collect data to see how well our students are learning. Tests help to do this but are not the only mechanism that exists. All of us have engaged in the process of developing learning outcomes, and will continue to do so. This helps to better define our graduate and his or her skills.
1. Huba ME, Freed JE. Learner-centered assessment on college campuses: shifting the focus from teaching to learning. Boston, MA; Allyn and Bacon, 2000:91-119