The concept of identifying and measuring student learning outcomes has been embraced by a wide range of international policy makers and institutions across the globe, including the European Union through the Bologna Process, the USA, the OECD and other international organisations, while at national level many states have adopted, or are in the process of adopting a new national qualifications framework, based on student learning outcomes. The challenge for educators is to develop ways of enabling students to achieve, and to demonstrate their achievement, of these outcomes. The aim of this chapter is to explore ways in which online pedagogical techniques can be designed to provide solutions to the challenge of clearly demonstrating that students are achieving intended learning outcomes. While the techniques have been developed in the context of distance education programmes, the chapter includes an example of how these methods have been adapted for blended learning for on-campus students. A note of caution is sounded on the need to adopt effective techniques which do not impact unduly on lecturer workload.
The Shift To Learning Outcomes: Implications For Instructional Design
Learning outcomes can be defined as ‘statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand, and/or be able to do at the end of the learning process’ (CEDEFOP, 2009, p. 17). While sometimes regarded as synonymous with objectives, the key difference is that objectives can also refer to inputs, and what is to be taught, while outcomes specifically refer to what the student can accomplish. Learning outcomes have acquired increasing importance at a political level and are seen as supporting diverse functions including: quality assurance; transparency of qualification systems; transnational mobility; tools to relate practical and theoretical learning; formulation of lifelong learning policies; and crucially, as a catalyst for reform or modernisation (CEC, 2006; Nusche, 2008; OECD, 2007).
Many countries have now adopted national qualifications frameworks, based on learning outcomes: for example, Ireland has adopted a National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) which identifies ten award levels, with detailed descriptors for learning outcomes for each level (NQAI, 2003). All higher education institutions in Ireland are required by law (Government of Ireland Qualifications [Education and Training] Act 1999 Section 7a) to adapt their curricula and award structures to the new levels, and all programmes and modules are required to adopt learning outcomes (described as ‘standards of knowledge, know-how and skill, and competence) which match the NQF guidelines (Maguire, Mernagh, & Murray, 2007).