Student standing in an office.

Outcomes-Based Education

Brescia has made a commitment to an outcomes-based model of education (OBE). This is because OBE aligns with our mission statement and Ursuline history and has been shown to be beneficial to women learners. Our institutional or degree-level learning outcomes are the Brescia Competencies.

Outcomes-based education (OBE) is a student-centred approach to teaching and learning. Rather than focusing on what course content needs to be covered, OBE shifts the focus to what students should be able to do or know as a result of the learning experience.

Writing Outcomes
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 Learning outcomes are statements about what students should be able to do, know, value, or demonstrate by the end of a course. They are written as the assessable end (or outcome!) of education from the students’ perspective. This means learning outcomes describe what we can see students doing.

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Learning outcomes then very briefly describes the observable activity students will complete.
  • This description starts with a strong, active verb that makes your expectations of students clear and ‘assessable’.
  • Finally, you may choose to add information that is essential for your context or discipline.

Example

  1. By the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate personal and professional integrity in research by documenting sources with scholarly references. 
  2. Upon successful completion of this course students should be able to analyze a brand by evaluating its performance and identifying brand issues and opportunities.

Writing learning outcomes takes practice, so download our worksheet to get started. The ALT Centre can also offer individual consultations where we can go through your learning outcomes in person.

For more detailed instructions on writing learning outcomes, we recommend:

SOLO Taxonomy 
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The ALT Centre encourages the use of the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs & Tang, 2011) when writing learning outcomes. SOLO forms the foundation of Brescia’s Competencies, our degree-level learning outcomes, and was used by our co-curricular departments when writing their learning outcomes. This means that, regardless of the program, department, or learning opportunity, each of our “levels” means the same thing to everyone on our campus.

SOLO aligns with Brescia’s approach to educating women as it allows students to integrate their lived experience and previous knowledge into their overall understanding of course content. This taxonomy represents a learning process: each new ‘level’ requires students to demonstrate the one(s) previous.

Use our resource sheet on Brescia’s Levels of Understanding when writing your learning outcomes. It provides helpful action verb suggestions, in the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains, for all four of Brescia’s levels.

Aligning your Courses
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An outcomes-based educational approach asks you to write learning outcomes before thinking about how you’ll teach or grade students. This can be a challenging task, particularly when you’re writing learning outcomes for an existing course or lesson.

The goal for an outcomes-based course, though, is constructive alignment. An aligned course has learning outcomes, assessment methods, and teaching strategies that are consistent and balanced (Biggs, 1996).

A simple example is learning to drive a car: if you want to teach someone to drive, their ‘final assessment’ is typically a driving test, rather than a written exam. But to ensure that students learn how to drive a car properly, they learn the rules of the road and get lots of practice driving on their own before taking the test.

Mind map of constructive alignment.

To determine whether your course is 'aligned':

  1. Review your learning outcomes, on their own. If students demonstrated or achieved this list of outcomes, would you consider your course a success? Do they capture the knowledge, skills, or attitudes that is essential for your course?
  2. Next, review your methods of assessment, in light of your learning outcomes. Are you asking students to demonstrate your learning outcomes in their assessments? One quick way to check is whether your assignments match your learning outcome’s active verb.
  3. Finally, turn your attention to the teaching and learning activities you use. This includes your readings and homework exercises, feedback you give students, as well as how you spend your class time. Are you giving your students enough opportunity to practice and learn your outcomes? In cases of Level 3 or 4 skills or values, are students given the chance to work up to these higher-order skills?
The benefit to a constructively-aligned course is deeper learning and more engaged students. All aspects of the course are consistent and students know what is expected of them and how to succeed.

Alignment also supports an Ursuline approach to education. Because we recognize that students actively create their own knowledge, we need to give them space and time to build that meaning – both on their own, and with others.

For more information on alignment:

By providing learning outcomes, we help our diverse, complex students understand where our class is going, regardless of where they start out. Learning outcomes obviously do not cover all of the rich, deep learning that each individual student may experience in your courses, but it gives them a general road map to their educational experience. By defining learning outcomes, you help your students see the ‘big picture’: they see know what is expected of them, where to focus their attention, and how their courses fit together. In other words, using an outcomes-based approach encourages students to engage and learn more deeply.

References:

  • Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32(3), 347-364
  • Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university. (4th ed). New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Potter, M. & Kustra, E. (2012). Primer on learning outcomes and the SOLO taxonomy. Centre for Teaching and Learning, University of Windsor. Retrieved from: http://www.uwindsor.ca/ctl/sites/uwindsor.ca.ctl/files/primer-on-learning-outcomes.pdf