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Learning Outcomes FAQ


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What are learning outcomes? Are they the same as objectives or competencies?

Learning outcomes are not the same as competencies or objectives. One of the chief differences between a learning outcome and an objective or competency is that a learning outcome describes how the student will integrate knowledge, skills, and abilities learned in a course, program or college education in a complex role performance. This complex role performance is something that will be required of graduates in their personal or professional lives after graduation.

Learning outcomes: 

  • represent integration of a student’s knowledge, skills and abilities in a complex role
  • performance required of graduates in their personal and professional lives
  • describe what a student will be able to do with what they have learned in courses, in programs, or as a result of a college education
  • emphasize use of knowledge
  • are public
  • are verifiable (assessable)
  • are not listings of discrete skills or pieces of knowledge that students are expected to master

In contrast to the integrative, transferable nature of learning outcomes, objectives or competencies describe discrete skills or bits of knowledge that are specific to a given context. The following example further illustrates the difference between a learning outcome and an objective. Both examples are derived from a hypothetical course, "Integrated Reading", in a hypothetical Teacher Education program.

Sample Course-level Learning Outcome: "Assesses literacy development of intermediate students and prescribes appropriate teaching strategies."
Sample Objectives: "Describes 6 features of dyslexia in intermediate students." 

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How do college-wide and program outcomes differ?

College-wide learning outcomes are learning outcomes expected of every RRC graduate regardless of program area. They describe core skills and abilities our graduates need to succeed in the world of work, and in a world that demands continuous learning--skills like critical thinking, problem solving, writing, speaking, and the ability to do information research and use technology. While we recognize that many of us are teaching and assessing for these outcomes already, our hope is that curriculum can be put in place across the college which systematically fosters development of these outcomes in all of our students.

Program outcomes describe what graduates of particular programs or program areas will be able to do as a result of learning experiences within the program. They often overlap with college-wide outcomes to some extent. When that is the case, program outcomes typically require the student to demonstrate higher levels of a particular outcome, or performance of the outcome in a context unique to that discipline. For example, graduates of a Social Work program might be expected to demonstrate higher-level interpersonal communication skills than other graduates, and would certainly use those skills in manner specific to their discipline.

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How are outcomes useful? Why should we bother?

Learning outcomes, whether at the course, program or college-wide level, can facilitate effective teaching and learning in a number of ways: 

  • the student is clear as to what is expected in terms of learning and assessment of learning; this can facilitate the student becoming an active player in the learning process
  • outcome statements make clear to the student how they will use what they are learning, therefore allowing students to see why it is important
  • writing outcome statements encourages reflection on the question "What do I want students to be able to do at the end with what they’ve learned in this (course/program/college education?)" This can result in a re-thinking of the amount and type of "content coverage" within courses and programs.
  • from a faculty perspective, having learning outcomes on course outlines facilitates awareness of what students; 1) have learned in prior courses; 2) are learning in concurrent courses; and 3) will learn in future courses.
  • writing outcome statements that focus on how students will use what they have learned can provide cues as to integrative student assessment strategies
  • articulating outcomes at the program and course level facilitates rational curriculum planning---curriculum development with the end in mind, minimizing unnecessary overlap and duplication, and avoiding gaps

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Does this imply faculty are not teaching core skills now?

Not at all. We know that many faculty are teaching and assessing for the core skills and abilities described in our proposed college-wide outcomes now. At the same time, we feel that these outcomes are so critical to the future success of our graduates that we need to put curriculum in place that consistently and systematically integrates core skills and abilities across the college, and ensures that our graduates have developed them.

We hope to "tap into" the expertise that already exists among faculty at RRC in terms of teaching and assessing for core skills and abilities as we move forward with the outcomes initiative. Faculty with expertise in teaching and assessing for any of the college-wide outcomes, who are willing to share their expertise with others, are encouraged to contact us.

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Will I have to address all of the college-wide outcomes in my course?

No. Some courses are more suitable "vehicles" for certain college-wide outcomes than others. What is being asked is that faculty identify one or more college-wide outcomes emphasized in courses they teach. Some courses will emphasize only one college-wide outcome. Others may address several.

* Adapted from FAQ’s, Curriculum Renewal Web Page, Mount Royal College, CA

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Last updated on October 10, 2012