Tag: learning outcomes

Guest blogger: Higher Education Learning Outcomes – do they matter?


Hanne Kvilhaugsvik (University of Bergen)

Hanne Kvilhaugsvik is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Administration and Organization Theory, University of Bergen. Her research interests are organizational change in universities, governmental steering of higher education, and university governance. Her PhD project explores how learning outcomes and criteria of relevance for the labor market are used to evaluate and steer higher education in Norway and Denmark. This blog post is based on material from her master’s thesis in Administration and Organization Theory from 2015.

By the end of 2012, Norwegian higher education institutions were required to introduce written descriptions of the intended learning outcomes for each and every course unit and study program, in every discipline. Learning outcomes are connected with qualifications frameworks, the Bologna process, and the OECD, and have therefore been introduced throughout Europe during the last couple of years. So, what happens to higher education institutions when learning outcomes are introduced? Do they improve the quality of education and provide transparency, or are they simply formal requirements?

What are learning outcomes?

Learning outcomes can be defined as: “[…] written statement[s] of what the successful student/learner is expected to be able to do at the end of the module/course unit, or qualification.” (Adam, 2004: 5). In pedagogy, learning outcomes have been connected to a paradigm-shift “from teaching to learning” or “from input to output”. The recommendation is to use expected learning outcomes as a starting point for planning course units and study programs (Biggs and Tang, 2011). This is described in contrast to planning based on traditional input factors, such as reading list and content descriptions.

Learning outcomes can be understood as administrative tools or formalities. However, they have increasingly been described and promoted as instruments for reform and change (Lassnigg, 2012; Bjørnåvold and Coles, 2007). There is no shortage of goals for using learning outcomes: To improve the quality of education, provide transparency, ensure relevant qualifications for the labor market, and provide better opportunities to steer education. Learning outcomes can therefore be understood in connection with New Public Management ideas, and especially with ideas of reforming higher education towards more ‘complete organizations’ (Brunsson and Sahlin-Anderson, 2000). While learning outcomes have been studied much within pedagogy, there has been less research on learning outcomes as political instruments or policy tools (Souto-Otero, 2012). It is therefore interesting to study how learning outcomes are introduced and defined as instruments in higher education.

A case study on learning outcomes in higher education 

Guest blogger: Learning outcomes – between perspectives and practice

Liliana Krstic

Liliana Krstić

Ljiljana Krstić is a recent graduate from the UiO’s Higher Education Master’s Programme. Her prior education includes a degree in the Greek language and literature as well as the human resources management. Main research interests involve organisational change within universities, management and internationalisation of higher education.

The idea to write the thesis about learning outcomes resulted from the article I read on how research has pointed out to the discrepancy between the narrative and actual application of the concept in practice, and how in fact application has turned out to be the slow and difficult (Adam, 2008). In addition, a CEDEFOP study (2012) confirmed that interpretations of the concept vary throughout Europe, and even within individual institution (Dobbins, Brooks, Scott, Rawlinson, Norman, 2014). Research indicates that application of such a broad concept may cause a variety of interpretations, misconceptions and misuses.

In general the problem with the reform rhetoric and changes that follow, are empirically unverified beliefs and assumptions of the reform policies. Some are expected to be adopted even if they lack empirical verification, normative agreement and clear theoretical propositions (Maassen, Olsen, 2007). Learning outcomes exemplify how a policy debate throughout Europe has the tendency to become more similar, despite the different traditions and varieties between the counties, implying the willingness of national actors to follow the new terminological fashion (Teichler, 2004) and to emphasise the “European perspective’.

Therefore I decided to write about perspectives necessary for understanding the concept of learning outcomes and empirically verifying whether some of them are more dominant than the other. Additionally, I wanted to hear the voices of academics and academic leaders as the ultimate recipients of the policy, responsible for its reshaping in practice and enquire about their interpretation of the concept and its embeddeddness within the institutional context of the University of Belgrade. Lastly, I used the data to find patterns in the perceptions of changes which occurred as a result of the application of learning outcomes in practice.

As for the methods of inquiry, University of Belgrade was treated as an embedded single-case study, with three faculties as sub-units integral to the University as a whole. The selection of faculties reflected the classification of disciplines into four broad headings: hard-pure, soft-pure, hard-applied and soft-applied (Becher, 1989; Neumann, Becher, 2002).

Understanding and interpretation of learning outcomes may vary respectively to the perceived learning orientation and purposes of the concept among academic community who assume different functions within the University. Thus, it was essential for the study to explore the perceptions of academics and academic leaders. Empirically, the thesis is built upon twelve in-depth semi-structured interviews and relevant university and legislative documents. The respondents are academics and academic leaders from: soft-pure, hard- pure and hard-applied faculties respectively.

Recorded seminar on the impact of learning outcome approaches within degree programmes

We are delighted to share with you another seminar recording from the research group HEIK (Higher Education: Institutional dynamics and Knowledge cultures). HEIK is a research group located at the Faculty of Educational Sciences in University of Oslo, the coordinating institution of Hedda.

Rachel Sweetman (HEIK/ Hedda) University of Oslo

Rachel Sweetman
(HEIK/ Hedda)
University of Oslo

This time, we are pleased to feature Rachel Sweetman from University of Oslo who gave a presentation titled: “The interpretation and impact of learning outcome approaches within degree programmes: national and disciplinary settings translating a key European concepts

Listen without the Flashplayer

Abstract for the session: 

Eight degree-programme cases from Norway and England, involving interviews with teachers, leaders and students, provide the basis for this comparative analysis of the way learning outcomes approaches are being interpreted within, and impacting on, diverse higher education settings.

Key variations and similarities in the interpretation and impact of learning outcome approaches as potential planning, teaching and steering tools are drawn out. These patterns are interrogated in relation to the ideas of policy translation and enactment. The variations that emerge are related to the distinct national settings of England and Norway, as well as aspects of disciplinary differences. The cases aim to support a wider discussion of the way enactment of learning outcome approaches so far relates to key theoretical distinctions and debates about outcome-based approaches, and the limitations of policies for standardization in international higher education.

Hedda podcast: AHELO Feasibility study with dr. Hamish Coates

Episode 41 of our podcast series features dr. Hamish Coates from the LH Martin Institute at University of Melbourne in Australia, and in the interview we discuss the AHELO Feasibility Study. AHELO stands for Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes, and is a OECD funded project international project where Dr. Coates has been the Project Director.

Read more about AHELO here

You can also listen to the podcast in audio version:

Listen without the Flashplayer

Dr. Hamish Coates is the Director of Higher Education Research at the Australian Council for Educational Research, and an Associate Professor with the LH Martin Institute. In the last decade he has been responsible for a number of large scale projects and he has published numerous publications on the definition, measurement and evaluation of education processes, contexts and outcomes. His further research interests include large-scale evaluation, tertiary education policy, institutional strategy, outcomes assessment, learner engagement, academic work and leadership, quality assurance, tertiary admissions, as well as assessment methodology.

He is a member of a number of editorial boards, as well having experience with consultancy work for both the World Bank and OECD. Furthermore, he has held visiting fellowships at the University of Michigan and UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning

Guest blogger: MOOCs, mom and me

Irene Ogrizek,  Dawson College, Montreal

Irene Ogrizek,
Dawson College, Montreal

Irene Ogrizek teaches English literature at Dawson College in Montreal, Quebec, and has developed online testing in platforms such as WebCT and Moodle. Furthermore, she frequently writes about education and digital technology on her own blog. In this commentary on the developments around MOOCs, she shares a rather personal story that offers some critical remarks on the current MOOC trends and concerns related to potential future impacts. 

Lately, I’ve been writing about MOOCs from a critical perspective, and that perspective has evolved from knowledge I’ve gained in both my private and professional lives. As one of my department’s fast adopters, I’m not opposed to using the internet as a teaching tool. However, it’s precisely my experience with online education that has me worried about the rhetoric I’m hearing from MOOC enthusiasts.

To manage cravings, recovering alcoholics are often told to “play the tape to the end.” It’s an exhortation to consider the entire experience, consequences included, of starting at one drink and ending at twenty. That’s good advice for those of us who aren’t addicted too: when possible, thinking a process through to its natural outcome is useful. MOOC enthusiasts, I suspect, are not playing the tape to the end, creating a worrisome disconnect between shortfalls in a student’s education and in the cost this can have for the rest of us.

News: Feasibility study report on cross-national measurement of student learning in HE (AHELO)

AHELOpic OECD recently published the first volume of AHELO feasibility study report, focused on design and implementation. AHELO stands for Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes and is in essence an attempt to conduct cross-national comparisons of learning outcomes independent of different cultures, languags and institutions.

The aims are similar to the PISA test that measures student learning in schools in a cross-national perspective – with an important difference – the comparisons will not be on national, but institutional level. In addition, the study will not provide a ranking. The feasibility study took 5 years to conduct, and this volume marks the first of three that will be published in upcoming months. The first volume focuses on design and implementation, second on data analysis and national experiences, and third will give further insights and conference proceedings.

Currently, the AHELO project has gone through a feasibility study in two discipline specific areas – economics and engineering, in addition to a measurement of generic skills.  The feasibility study tested 23 000 students in 248 institutions in 17 countries on a voluntary basis. One of the countries particiapting in the generic skills evaluation was Norway, J. Levy who is a member of the permanent Norwegian delegation to OECD explained thatIf successful, it will increase our knowledge of higher education institutions, and thus give additional tools for quality development.” Furthermore, he argued that AHELO can provide “new information, supplementing existing information from rankings mainly based on data on research activities“. Similar arguments about more information and data about learning were also emphasized by the Mexican and Australian representatives.

Guest blogger: How students become consumers of higher education

Dr. Joanna Williams
(University of Kent, UK)

In this post, dr Joanna Williams from University of Kent (UK) argues that there is a complex process by which students adopt a consumer perspective to higher education, and it is not merely tuition fees that contribute to this. 

The entry draws on her recent book “Consuming Higher Education: Why Learning Can’t Be Bought“, London: Bloomsbury. 

Recent news reports suggest the true cost of a university education for English students may be close to £100,000. It is perhaps not surprising then that students are increasingly described as ‘consumers’ of higher education (HE) (see Brown: 2011 and Molesworth, Nixon and Scullion: 2011). In Consuming Higher Education: Why Learning Can’t Be Bought I argue that the payment of university tuition fees (currently £9000 each year for English students) is a symptom rather than a cause of students being considered as consumers. Students are constructed as consumers both before entering HE and while at university by a range of government policies and institutional practices, many of which pre-date tuition fees paid by individual students. Indeed, students were first referred to as ‘customers’ of HE in government publicity in 1993, five years before they were required to pay any fees at all (see the Conservative government’s 1993 Charter for Higher Education).

Students are constructed as consumers from the moment they first begin to think about attending university. Government-sponsored websites offering guidance to school children present university as mainly concerned with future employment and material reward: ‘Higher education could boost your career prospects and earning potential … on average, graduates tend to earn substantially more  … Projected over a working lifetime, the difference is something like £100,000’. The government’s perception of the benefit of HE emerges clearly: it is to enable youngsters to get a job and earn money. Education is presented as an essentially private investment from which material rewards can be accrued. The ‘good consumer’ will shop around to choose the university that will most efficiently yield the highest return on their investment.