A PREREQUISITE: Pinpointing essential learning
IDENTIFICATION of learning outcomes (LOs) is one of the prerequisites for the implementation of outcome-based education (Learning Curve, March 14, 2009).
These LOs subsequently guide the identification of the course content and its implementation, the approach to and techniques of teaching/learning activities as well as the methods of assessment.
William G. Spady (1994) defined LOs as "the statements that describe significant and essential learning that learners would have achieved and could reliably demonstrate at the end of the course".
Aside from different parts of a programme, LOs should also be identified for individual teaching/learning activities, for example lectures, practical lessons and small group sessions, and they must relate to all domains of learning i.e. knowledge, skills and attitudes.
Outcomes do not minimise the importance of knowledge or educational process but rather determine the relevance of information.
LOs should also relate to the level of competence that students are expected to achieve at that particular stage of training.
Using psychologist George Miller's four levels of competence, the following will elaborate the point:
Level 1 -- knows that plagiarism is immoral
Level 2 -- konws what is plagiarism and how to avoid it
Level 3 -- avoids plagiarism, has academic integrity
Level 4 -- has moral courage to stand up for academic integrity
Measuring LOs provides information on what particular knowledge (cognitive), skill or behaviour (affective) students have gained after instruction is completed.
LOs inform what is to be assessed and how it should be evaluated. If a LO states that a student would be able to perform a particular task, the assessment method must involve performing the task and not just describing how it is performed.
The LOs of a course module may be general (broad statements) or specific which identify the knowledge, skills and attitudes to be achieved in that particular module.
For example, the ability of medical students to explain the mechanism of urine formation is a general outcome, whereas their ability to collect urine specimens from patients is a specific outcome.
You have to be careful while constructing LOs. They have to be worded in such a way that they have the following SMART characteristics:
• Specific -- The LO has to be defined unambiguously. The task to be accomplished should be understood clearly both by the instructors as well as by students.
• Meaningful -- There is no point is setting up LOs which do not carry any significance or application after achieving them.
• Achievable -- You cannot set a LO which is possibly unattainable within the allocated time or is beyond the scope of training or if instructions are not specifically designed to achieve it.
• Relevant -- Setting up an irrelevant LO confuses students. It is the relevance of the undertaking that motivates them to be actively involved in the learning process.
• Testable -- The LO should be measureable, otherwise it cannot be determined if a student has achieved it.
To fulfil the above criteria, LOs should be short statements that are easy to communicate. Since the evidence that learning has taken place should be "testable" and "measureable", the statements of LOs should begin with an action verb such as "at the end of this session, the students would be able to" and "explain the mechanism of lightning during a thunderstorm".
LOs can be constructed as "assignment or question statements" that require students to write an answer in the form of short, focused or restricted response type of essays, for example "describe the mechanism of thermoregulation in humans".
The ultimate test when constructing a LO is whether or not the "required response" or "action to be taken" by the participants is measureable.
If not, the outcome probably does not meet the SMART criteria. Very often we see LOs which are unclear and represent elements of curriculum rather than some action that students will demonstrate. This usually happens when action verbs are not used. Note the following examples:
At the end of this session the participants will be able to:
l Understand the importance of shivering in maintaining body temperature.
l Appreciate the role of trees in reduction of carbon dioxide levels in the environment.
It is obvious that the above LOs are not testable or measureable. The same outcomes can be made measureable by replacing the verbs "understand" and "appreciate" by action verbs such as "explain" and "describe" respectively.
Examples of action verbs include: list, discuss, analyse, draw, design, utilise, compute, plan, select, predict, create, plan, apply, prepare, demonstrate, compare, critique and use.
While constructing LOs, the following verbs should be avoided as they call for covert behaviour which cannot be observed or measured: know, learn, become familiar with, understand and appreciate.
Alam Sher Malik New Straits Times Learning Curve Sunday, november 04, 2012