Where do good learning outcomes start?

Reading time: 6m

AuthorCathy SivakChief Quality Officer
Reading Time6 minutes

In our last blog post, ‘Bridging the gap between behaviourism and teaching practice’, we looked at behavioural science and how reinforcement can impact positively on learning. As you might expect, there’s so much more you can do to help your learners achieve their goals. Behavioural scientists suggest that it's important to create the right environment and help shape behaviours that enable learning. The way in which we guide or instruct learning is a key consideration in this. One of the most effective ways to guide learners is to tell them explicitly where they should be heading, and how to get there. Cue learning outcomes.

What are observable and measurable outcomes?

Between 1949 and 1953, a committee of educators, chaired by Benjamin Bloom, met for a series of conferences designed to improve curricula and examinations. As a result of these conferences, the committee came up with a taxonomy that classifies skills into a hierarchy, known as ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’.

Since Bloom’s first volume (Handbook I: Cognitive) was published in 1956, the taxonomy has helped practitioners to plan and organise training. In Handbook I, Bloom and his committee identified a number of cognitive levels at which humans can function. These range from the basic function of understanding and recalling new information, to the more complex function of evaluating information and connecting it with other knowledge.

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Bloom’s cognitive levels are commonly displayed as a step pyramid, with the lower-level cognitive functions located at the bottom. This taxonomy of the cognitive domain was revised by Anderson and Krathwohl in 2001 to include verbs rather than nouns and to reposition two of the nouns. The most important adaptation however was the addition of a fourth ‘knowledge level’ — ‘metacognitive’ knowledge was added to factual, conceptual and procedural — and guidance about how these knowledge types intersect cognitive functions in the taxonomy.

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The step-pyramid structure is often interpreted as suggesting that the higher-level functions can only be reached if the levels below them have been achieved, and that not all learners will be able to reach the top level. Some educators strongly disagree with this structure, especially when it is applied to Anderson and Krathwohl’s revised taxonomy. Shelley Wright of the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) goes as far to suggest that the revised taxonomy should be flipped on its head, so that learners begin with an introduction to a subject through creating, rather than being bombarded with facts they need to remember (but that’s for another blog post).

How to use learning outcomes

1. Start with a plan

To fail to plan is to plan to fail. Consider what your learners need to know and how they get there. What steps do they need to follow? This benefits both you and your learners. It will give them a clear path to follow, and enable you to continually evaluate progress against the goals you set.

2. Use a taxonomy

Create learning outcomes that will inform and direct. Regardless of how you want your learners to achieve them, it’s useful to set out what you want them to be able to do using active verbs that relate to cognitive skills, not tasks. Knowing what goals they are working towards also enables learners to ensure that they have chosen the correct course or strategy and can commit to achieving it.

What you set out as learning outcomes should be what you assess throughout the learning journey. They should inform the design of the ongoing and final assessment activities that are critical to checking learners’ understanding and progress. Learning outcomes should also shape the feedback you provide learners. Read more about effective feedback in Hattie and Timperley’s article on ‘The Power of Feedback’ (2007).

Learning systems such as Thinqi often provide authoring templates to enable you to create learning outcomes that make an impression on your learners. In Playlists, Thinqi’s authoring tool, there are a variety of templates you can use for this purpose.

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The Playlists tool in Thinqi also contains a range of assessment templates that can be used to assess how well your learners have achieved the learning outcomes. Choose from a variety of templates from multiple-choice questions to free text entry, then take advantage of our in-depth reporting and analytics to evaluate what’s working and what needs to be improved.

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To find out what other theory informs our pedagogy, and how learning systems can help deliver effective, informed training, keep an eye out for Part 3 of this series, where we’ll be talking about nudge theory.

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