Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Learning outcomes and random musings...

I’m sure I’m doing it wrong - elearnspace: "Most educators have been told, during the completion of their degrees, that learning starts with objectives or outcomes. Then, often relying on a Bloom’s Taxonomy verb list, those outcomes are translated into activities and ultimately assessment. It’s an ok model, I guess. I just don’t like it. I have yet to find research that states that learning outcomes contribute to more effective learning (if you know of research on the subject, please let me know). I’m not advocating for disorganized approaches to teaching and learning. Some organization is obviously required. But we can organize with out wearing and educational theory straight jacket. As Dean Shareski states in I’m sure I’m doing it wrong: “Simple. Meaningful. Necessary. Education has become very good at making the simple very complex. That just seems wrong to me.”"
Interesting comment on Bloom's Taxonomy on the elearnspace blog... and... I have to agree with that sense of disquiet which is mentioned. Here's my main issue with the whole constructive alignment (Biggs, 1999) deal... learning outcomes aligned to assessment and activities = successful learning. A + B = C. How simple is that? Great recipe... right? They will learn what you want them to learn, you get inside their heads with the use of a cunning formula. Nice little box to put everything in too. However. What about when A + B = Z? What happens when they don't learn what you expected? What about A + B = C + D, transforms onwards to E... What about you say A + B = C and the student hears Z + S = H?

Learning outcomes are at once amazingly woolly and yet also strangely restrictive. The best you can do is hope that they learn what you intend, and that they enjoy the experience along the way. I've seen learning outcomes stated for various things I've studied. I've worked on courses where I'm meant to comment on how students are doing in relation to prescribed outcomes... but, y'know... I still don't find them massively helpful. Their explicit statement has never ever deepened my learning. I might find them useful to trot out to someone when asked what I've learned on a particular course... but... I don't believe that what was intended for me to learn was all I actually learned. Or that I didn't find ways of subverting the system to turn learning into something personally meaningful.

Hmmmm... I don't know. I think I may be in the 'sure I'm doing it wrong' category too because I really don't like learning outcomes either. I think they smack of something Isaac Asimov once said:

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'
Learning. Deep, real, beautifully engaging learning is what makes you mull over an idea in your head in the wee small hours. Which catches you off-guard when you're meant to be doing something else. When ideas divert you from a safe path into exploring something new. It's what makes you write a blog post on something you've been thinking about for a while when you're laid up in bed feeling grotty (holds hand aloft on that one!)

It's really not A + B = C. Learning outcomes might give direction, constructive alignment some superficial achievement of a goal... but they're aiming for Eureka, not 'that's funny'. 'That's funny', however, is the place where emergent, unintended outcomes live and are where creative thinking and deep learning are really at.

1 comment:

  1. Sarah,

    Reminds me of the notion of 'the radical impossibility of teaching' which I have written on, but which I derived from a paper by Ron Burnett. The simple equation just isn't that simple, as you say.
    John Connell


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