Review and Alignment of Learning Outcomes

Both the DQP and Tuning encourage systematic reflection on the kinds of learning (knowledge, skills, and abilities) colleges and universities expect of their students. Institutions express their desired learning outcomes at the institution, program, and course level. Collectively, these goals provide a framework for determining whether students are attaining core proficiencies at the intended points in the relevant degree program—a task that requires coordinated effort on the part of different units on campus. Thus, clear and comprehensible outcomes are critical for faculty and staff to conduct a comprehensive review of the expected proficiencies at various levels and align these outcomes across each.

The vast majority of colleges and universities have established a set of outcomes for all their students (Kuh, Jankowski, Ikenberry, & Kinzie, 2014). But for understandable reasons such as lack of faculty and staff preparation for outcomes-based course design and assessment and rushed processes to comply with accreditation expectations have in many cases resulted in inadequately described outcomes and poor alignment between learning experiences and the stated outcomes and proficiencies. For information on writing clear learning outcomes statements, see Appendix B.

Even when an institution has clear learning outcomes statements, over time what is expected in terms of what college graduates know and can do can change. Also, advances in different fields of study require requisite modifications in stated outcomes and learning experiences that comport with those changes. The DQP proficiencies and tuned descriptions of discipline-specific learning provide an impetus for returning to learning outcomes and reconsidering the extent to which they still describe the learning that institutions and programs value—and the extent to which they do so in comprehensible and relevant ways.

Adopting an investigative spirit can add freshness to the review of existing learning outcomes statements by asking questions such as: To what extent are existing outcomes still relevant and appropriate to the respective discipline and what the institution now expects of all students? To what extent do faculty, staff, and students understand the learning the outcomes describe? To what extent are the outcomes iterative and integrative, building ever greater proficiency over time and across the institution? Are the proficiency levels at a high enough bar? Those kinds of questions can engage faculty and staff in a healthy reflective process leading to meaningful revision of outcomes statements and the curricula needed to help students cultivate and demonstrate the expected proficiencies.