Friday, September 13, 2019

Learning Outcomes vs Learning Objectives

Every module that I have taught over the past 17 years has a set of Learning Outcomes - usually about four or five. In essence, these outcomes are what students will have achieved upon completion of the module - assessment is based on these outcomes. When creating modules, one of the hard things to do is to actually write the learning outcomes. First - there is the level to consider, I usually use Bloom's Taxonomy for the appropriate verbs to use. There is a big difference in learning to "describe" something compared to "analysing" something. It is also hard to write a four or five statements that cover everything in the module - by their nature, sometimes module learning outcomes are high level compared to what is actually covered in part of a class.

From 1989 to 2002 I worked for an e-Learning company called CBT Systems, which became SmartForce, and which is now known as Skillsoft. It was all about producing e-Learning content - first on floppy diskettes, then on CD-ROM, and then on-line. All through this time the development of content was based on the following structure:
  • A curriculum with several courses - up to 10 in some cases
  • Each course had several lessons - usually three to five
  • Each lesson contained several Learning Objects - four to six would have been typical
So the building block for content development was to create Learning Objects, and then stitch them together into the above structure. Often we debated what the definition of a Learning Object was. I recall one occasion when one of the VPs (Bill B.) asked a bunch of us in a meeting "What is a Learning Object?" - we were not able to give him a satisfactory answer. In the end he told us that a Learning Object was "the content necessary to achieve a learning objective". From that day forth, content was created in building blocks of objects on the basis of achieving a single learning objective. If a learning object covered two or more objectives, it had to be split so that each part covered just a single objective. Very clear and easy to follow - at the beginning of each lesson, the learning objectives were outlined and then assessed at the end.

Learning Outcomes are not the same as Learning Objectives - the difference is that "outcomes" are at the macro level, and "objectives" are at the micro level. We clearly state the Learning Outcomes, but rarely state the Learning Objectives. Our timetables are rigidly based on hours - a one-hour class could have more than one objective. A typical module will have 36-48 hours per semester - so a lot of learning objectives will have to be covered. We kind of do this anyway - but perhaps not on the clear one objective per object that e-Learning allows us to do. 

In the era of bite-sized learning, do we need to begin to set a single learning objective for each bite? 

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