Incorporating Design Principles in Writing Student Learning Outcomes

Modern Design Principles

Smartphones, tablets, and e-readers have revolutionized how we consume and create information. It’s a based simple formula:

simplicity + user customization = engagement

Take my e-reader, pictured below. It comes in only black or white. To get started, I just turned it on, adjusted a few settings, and was good to go. Over time, though, I added more extensions, created folders, personalized settings, and customized the kindle to meet my specific needs.

kindle

Simplicity in design coupled with customization of experience is why today’s smartphones and e-readers are so engaging. When I look at another person’s smartphone or e-reader, though, it’s kind of weird. Although the other person’s device looks the exact same, the settings, layout, and overall experience is not. Anyone who has looked for something on their spouse’s or partner’s smartphone knows the feeling.

The design of today’s e-readers and smartphones is intentional. The idea is that simplicity and less design is easier to use and more genuine. By allowing the user customize and personalize the device, engagement with it also increases.

Design Principles in Learning Outcomes

Applying the design principle of  principle of simplicity + user customization = engagement to assessment and evaluation could simplify things and lead to greater engagement.

Like a smartphone, tablet, or e-reader, the process for writing student learning outcomes can start with a few standard features, as shown below. Then, faculty and staff can customize from there. 

  1. Answer questions about your program, course or activity.
  2. Select a verb and link it to an activity.
  3. Write the final outcome.

Feature 1. Start with questions. 

  • Affective domain: “What does your program want students to value or care about?”
  • Cognitive domain: “What does your program want students to know?”
  • Psychomotor domain: “What does your program want students to be able to do?”

If you don’t know anything about the domains or need a refresher, that’s okay. You can watch this video.

Example: Masters Degree in Assessment & Evaluation Program

  • Assessment question 1 (cognitive): Students should know how to engage stakeholders.
  • Assessment question 2 (cognitive, somewhat psychomotor): Students should know how to write goals and outcomes.
  • Assessment question 3 (affective): Students should be able identify and question their own values and how those values guide assessment research.

Feature 2. Select the activity or assignment and link it to a verb.

Click on this sheet below to see what activities or assignments work well with a particular verb.

Example: Masters Degree in Assessment & Evaluation Program

  • Assessment question 1 (cognitive): Students should know how to engage stakeholders.
  • Assessment question 2 (cognitive, somewhat psychomotor): Students should know how to write goals and outcomes.
    • Activity/assignment: Students write learning outcomes using the ABCD method.
    • Potential verbs: Write, produce, demonstrate, generate
  • Assessment question 3 (affective): Students should be able identify and question their own values and how those values guide assessment research.
    • Activity/assignment: Reflecting on one’s values and their relationship to research epistemology.
    • Potential verbs: Reflect, justify, adjust, modify, defend, adapt

Feature 3. Write the outcomes.

Example: Masters Degree in Assessment & Evaluation Program (using the ABCD method as an example)

  • Assessment question 1 (cognitive): Students should know how to engage stakeholders.
    • Activity/assignment: Students use a stakeholder identification and analysis grid to identify and analyze stakeholders in an assessment plan.
    • Potential verbs: Identify, classify, prioritize, compare, contrast
    • Final outcome: Using a stakeholder identification grid (condition), students (audience) will identify stakeholders and integrate their needs into the design and analysis of assessment(s) as well as the reporting of results (behavior).
  • Assessment question 2 (cognitive, somewhat psychomotor): Students should know how to write goals and outcomes.
    • Activity/assignment: Students write learning outcomes using the ABCD method.
    • Potential verbs: Write, produce, demonstrate, generate, formulate
    • Final outcome: Given an ABCD template and learning taxonomies (condition), students (audience) will identify appropriate verbs and produce three learning outcomes (behavior).
  • Assessment question 3 (affective): Students should be able identify and question their own values and how those values guide assessment research.
    • Activity/assignment: Reflecting on one’s values and their relationship to research epistemology.
    • Potential verbs: Reflect, justify, adjust, modify, defend, adapt
    • Final outcome: Given a description of three major paradigms – positivism, constructivism, and pragmatism – (condition), students (audience) will identify a paradigm consistent with their personal worldview and articulate how they will adapt paradigmatic assumptions to different assessment and evaluation contexts and needs (behavior).

Start Customizing

Now it’s time to start customizing and writing the outcomes in a way that fits your specific disciplinary and programmatic needs, values, research orientation, culture and history. Some methods include:

Summary & Tips

ABC…..D Method

I did not include the degree of learning in the final learning outcomes. I have only found the degree part of the ABCD model useful in summative assessment. Here’s an example:

Upon completion of the art history program, 80% of students will be able to identify the approximate year of a painting.

The first issue with these kind of outcomes is that the cut-offs are seemingly arbitrary. Why is 80% better than 75%? What is so special and magical about 80%? The second issue is use of the results. If 90% of students in the art history program meet the goal, it provides an incentive for the program to ignore the outcome and move on. If 75% don’t show competency, that suggests a problem that may not exist.

The C.A.S.E. Method (Copy and Steal Everything)

The first outcome dealing with stakeholders is from the ASK student affairs assessment standards. There’s no sense writing a new outcome when a good one already exists. I wouldn’t recommend using an outcome without attribution, however.

Learning Outcomes Focus on What Students Actually Do, Not What They Posses

Adleman points that verbs need to be operationalized. Verbs or statements like understand, become familiar with, recall or capable of should be avoided because they describe “internal cognitive dynamics” that are difficult to assess. Just because a verb describes an action does not mean it can be operationalized for assessment.

Learning Outcomes Put the Focus on Students, Not Teaching

Learning outcomes should focus on what students do, not classroom activities or what we teach. “Students will be introduced to the topics of abnormal mental behaviors…” describes what we do as instructors, not what students do.

Learning Outcomes Are Focused on the Present or Near Present, Not the Future or the Past

Adleman asserts that learning outcomes should focus on what students do now, not in the future or past. As an example, we all want students to able to discuss an important topic or idea after they graduate. The first problem is that students aren’t with us anymore and will be difficult to assess. It’s difficult to isolate our impact on a graduates’s ability to discuss an important issue 10 years after graduation. The second problem is that discuss could be interpreted as focusing on a teaching activity.

Learning Outcomes Describe the Learning that Results from the Activity, not the Activity Itself

An outcome like “students will participate in a hazardous materials training seminar” is a fine outcome if the goal to measure participation only. As written, though, this outcome says nothing about what students will learn of the training seminar.

Focus on How to Operationalize Learning Outcomes, Not Arbitrary Distinctions

Some people are really picky about the differences between learning outcomes, objectives, goals, targets, indicators, outputs, etc. I have yet to see a standard approach to the definition of these words. Every textbook and author has a different definition.

Presenting a detailed and prescribed definition of each is confusing enough. Asking people to write varying levels of outcomes and outputs is even worse. The only distinctions that matter, in my experience, are the differences between 1) outcomes and outputs and 2) the levels between program, classroom, or institutional outcomes. In the context of writing learning outcomes they are all statements of intentionality. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter.

References & Documents

About rlsmith205

Bloomington-Normal, IL
This entry was posted in Assessment - General, Methods and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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