Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes in Distance Education

Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes in Distance Education

Vicki L. Gregory (University of South Florida, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3688-0.ch011
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Abstract

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) are becoming the norm for all types of accreditation decisions by regional and specialized agencies. SLOs and student assessment norms and best practices are described, as well as a path to establish SLOs. Analyzing and using the data collected about student assessment to enrich student learning is also described. Special attention is given to LIS instruction, but several comparisons to other disciplines are also made.
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Outcomes Assessment

The concept of outcomes assessment has been in the literature beginning with Bloom’s Taxonomy in the 50s, but it was only in the mid-90s that student learning outcomes began to be tied to accountability of institutions and programs. Before 1960, higher-education planning was rarely based on systematic, cyclical, useful evaluation of an institution’s programs. Only after 1960 did strategic planning and management spread through academe, and educators began discussing a systems approach to learning (Carey, Perrault, & Gregory, 2001). A critical systems concept included by these instructional designers was the feedback loop; that is, program performance could be improved upon by collecting performance data and using it to refine the curriculum (Dick & Carey, 1978). By the next decade, a trend by accrediting bodies to more closely examine and measure outcomes rather than only inputs was apparent. That is, a shift to examine the results of student learning processes rather than just applicable statistical factors (e.g., the number of faculty, the number of students per class and other similar metrics) was underway (Kells,1995). Today, higher education literature explicitly indicates that the process of assessing student learning, student development, and program outcomes is essential to improving the health and vitality of academic programs generally (Perrault, Gregory, & Carey, 2002).

Most outcomes-based models, particularly in professional fields, include an active approach to engaging in conceptual learning. This active learning methodology aligns the learning process specifically with what the learner is expected to do with the information learned from the experience (see Figure 1), and how the learner can transfer specific learning elements to other situations. (Little, Badway, & Hargis, 2008).

Figure 1.

Outcomes-Based Model of Student Learning

An important, indeed natural, aspect of the systems approach to student learning outcomes is the concept of continuous improvement:

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