Learning outcomes for #edcmooc

From the discussion forums:  Example 1

…what are the learning outcomes for which this course was designed? Which outcomes are served by each of the segments? How will we assess our progress towards these outcomes?

Thomas Luxon (a month ago)

Just over a decade ago, I asked staff and students at the university where I worked (not the University of Edinburgh) What is a learning outcome?  I heard from 111 staff, mainly academics, and 260 students.  I received some fascinating responses, but unfortunately my institution didn’t want me to publish them.  I could identify two main broad categories:  a result and an anticipatory statement or intention.  A third category also emerged when I looked at student responses – an aspect of a course, particularly assessment.

What is a learning outcome?

Staff Students
Result 53% 23%
Intention 29% 30%
Assessment/element of course 8% 31%

From a study undertaken by Christine Sinclair in 2002  (NB:  actual comments were much more nuanced)

My study threw some light on some mismatches I could see in staff and student expectations.  I suspect there is still some ambiguity about this term, and our EDCMOOC has strengthened this feeling for me.  My own preferred emphasis tends to be on results, but I do understand the strength of adding the word ‘intended’ as well.  In terms of a result I think an artefact is a very clear outcome.  But look at the range of learning embodied in these artefacts: here’s a link to a fantastic student-created collation of some of them.  Could we have anticipated what people would have learned?  What statements of intended outcomes would have done justice to what has emerged?  And what about the learning outcomes achieved by people who haven’t submitted?

Stating intended learning outcomes can be very useful for many courses. It helps teachers with planning their course design and students with knowing what’s expected of them.  But what’s been happening on our course here does suggest that it’s worth revisiting the words of Lawrence Stenhouse, writing in 1975:  ‘Education as induction into knowledge is successful to the extent that it makes the behavioral outcomes of the students unpredictable’ (p. 82).  There are more recent challenges to learning outcomes too, including this call to resist them.  I’ve done my share of teaching academics – and even also our students on the MSc in Digital Education – about course design using learning outcomes, but that does include applying a critical lens.

From the discussion forums: Example 2

One of the challenges of MOOCs is measuring outcomes. Since most of your students are educators we should want to help measure the outcomes. I would recommend you send us students a survey, perhaps every six months for the next two years, to see how we are using the materials and how we evaluate the course over time.

Richard Dine (3 weeks ago)

This is an interesting idea.  I once had a ‘learning outcome’ eight years after the input: I remember suddenly being aware of what ‘that woman at the conference was getting at’.  Her presentation had clearly been memorable, but I did not have sufficient pre-requisite knowledge in my repertoire at the time to process her meaning.  This experience reinforced my view that simple statements of outcomes in relation to a course may encourage a distorted picture.  How often and what intervals is it meaningful to check on outcomes – and how can we be sure what to attribute them to?

I accept that we will have lost some students because we did not explicitly state learning outcomes and show step by step how they would be achieved.  Even those students, I would argue, are likely to have left the course with some important learning outcomes that are specific to themselves.

From a teacher’s perspective, there have been many learning outcomes from this MOOC.  I think I have experienced several just from looking at the Twitter feed and discussion forums this morning.  There have been adjustments to my understanding of, for example:  responses to automation, language and cultural perspectives in a globalised course, interpretation of messages, the role of peer assessment as a learning opportunity, what is (not) possible when assessing at scale.  And there will some I haven’t even begun to process yet.

To everyone involved: I hope that your own learning outcomes from EDCMOOC have been satisfying, but not to the extent that you want to stop pursuing the topics to achieve more.  I have certainly been energised by seeing the outcomes of the past five weeks – and I still have a lot more to look at.

Christine Sinclair


Stenhouse, L. (1975) An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development.  London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd.