Learning Outcomes of Any Value? #HigherEd

Interesting article in Times Higher about ‘Learning Outcomes’ and the general impatience and disregard that most academics view them as – dangerous tickbox exercises rather than helping improve learning & teaching:

“Professor Furedi, how do you get around learning outcomes?” a young lecturer asks me in a breakout session. I have just spent 10 minutes explaining the corrosive influence of learning outcomes on education to my audience at the recent Think Festival in The Hague. Nevertheless, I am caught off guard by my blunt questioner. That is probably why my reply is a bit more candid than I had intended it to be. “I just make them up and ignore them,” I say.

I should not have been too surprised by the question. One week earlier, when I put forward the same argument to a group of PhD students and staff at the University of Birmingham, the predominant reaction to learning outcomes was also one of cynicism and contempt. After my lecture, a recently appointed lecturer in education sounded like Jean-Paul Sartre when he described how he and his colleagues managed the institutional expectation that learning outcomes should be taken seriously: “With bad faith,” he chuckled. And bad faith is what the Quality Assurance Agency communicated in its 2007 reportOutcomes from institutional audit: The adoption and uses of learning outcomes, when it boasted “that, despite differential rates of progress between and within institutions, the adoption of learning outcomes has been addressed with vigour”. Only in passing did the report point out that it “is apparent that not all staff embraced the learning outcomes approach with equal enthusiasm”; a bit of an understatement. Vigour and enthusiasm are not sentiments that normal academics express towards learning outcomes.

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