In order to begin measuring learning outcomes, we need to start with an understanding of why we should be measuring them in the first place.
Let’s consider this from the perspective of all players involved.
In today’s market, employers are faced with the challenge of hiring employees from a large talent pool with a wide variety of skills and competencies that are difficult to assess during the standard interview process. They’re looking for better ways to predict performance and hire people who have what it takes to hit the ground running on their first day.
Ensuring that new hires come on board with the necessary skills and competencies means less time and resources tied up in training and more productivity across the board. In the long term, this also means less attrition and related expenses. In order to narrow the talent pool to the highest potential candidates, employers will naturally seek and favor schools whose graduates can demonstrate high levels of learning outcomes. It’s a win-win-win.
By assessing learning outcomes throughout the program and prior to graduation, students receive highly objective and timely feedback. This information allows them to recognize their strengths, while also identifying the skills and competencies they need to further develop in order for them to get - and keep – a job in their desired field.
This process ensures that students are employable as soon as they graduate, providing the student with a higher level of confidence when entering the workforce. These satisfied alumni are more likely to be gainfully employed and become ambassadors of the school, proudly referring their friends and family.
Another key player when it comes to measuring learning outcomes is the faculty. Measuring student outcomes across faculty members teaching the same courses provides a good opportunity for professional development. Administrators can compare their faculty results to other programs, campuses, and the national norm to identify their top performers from those who could use improvement.
Also, based on their students’ performance in each area of the curriculum, instructors receive information on the specific topics where they can adjust their instruction in order to improve results. This naturally provides a chance for faculty to share best practices and learn from each other’s strengths.
Learning outcomes are also of significant interest to accrediting organizations. By demonstrating a standard and objective measure of student outcomes, schools have highly regarded evidence for accreditation requirements such as Campus Effectiveness Plans, leading to reduced compliance issues and costs. Accrediting organizations then have a reliable means to ensure the appropriate learning outcomes are being demonstrated consistently across instructors, programs, campuses, and even schools.
Finally, the school is one of the largest stakeholders when it comes to measuring learning outcomes. The main reasons have all been introduced above: gainful employment, improved employer partnerships, ambassador alumni, increased quality of instruction, and increased compliance with accreditors.
How do you measure learning outcomes?
The key is to start with the end in mind and work backwards. The primary goal is gainful employment, so you have to start with employers and industry standards. The first step is to identify the skills and competencies that employers and the related programmatic boards require from graduates. Then those skills and competencies need to be translated into objectives that can be taught, learned, and measured. These objectives then become the foundational learning outcomes that are the key to connecting the program curriculum with the assessment content and employer needs.