Qualifications and programmes at all levels and in almost all parts of education and training are described using learning outcomes. They also play a key role in the dialogue between education and training institutions and labour market stakeholders, helping to articulate skills and competence needs, thus directly and indirectly supporting the review and renewal of qualifications and programmes
The learning outcomes principle, emphasizing what a learner is expected to know, be able to do and understand at the end of a learning process, plays an increasingly important role in efforts to improve the quality and relevance of education and training in Europe. The focus on learning outcomes supports the dialogue between education and training and labour market actors, as well as across different education and training subsystems. Similarly, the increased transparency offered by learning outcomes acts as a reference point for several stakeholders – policy-makers, labour market actors and teachers – making it easier to analyze the match between skills demands and education and training provision. However, learning outcomes are written and applied in different ways which do not guarantee benefit to end-users, such as learners, teachers or employers.
Learning outcomes are used for a wide range of purposes and by a wide variety of users. Consequently, and directly reflecting different needs, they must be defined and described – in format, length and detail – in ways which suits these users and their needs. The level descriptors in a qualifications’ framework will not operate at the same level of detail and specificity as the learning outcomes statements of curricula and assessment specifications. While qualifications frameworks provide a general reference for comparing qualifications and distinguishing levels, learning-outcomes-based curricula and assessment specifications must be defined and written in a way that ‘speaks to’ learners and teachers, and adds value to the learning process.
For the education and training institution, learning outcomes provide an important instrument for developing as well as reviewing programmes and qualifications. The approach also provides the basis for systematic dialogue with labour market and society stakeholders regarding evolving skills needs. The perspective helps to determine the purpose and orientation of a course, a programme or qualification and to clarify how it relates to and/or overlaps with other courses/programmes and qualifications. Learning outcomes provide an important reference point for quality assurance and close dialogue with end-users. The relationship between intended and actual learning outcomes is very important and needs to be addressed systematically, ranging from regular assessments to skills intelligence approaches of different kinds, such as learner and employer surveys.
For the teacher and/or instructor, the learning outcomes approach helps to orient teaching, to select methods and to support the individual learner throughout the learning process. Learning outcomes statements, by indicating the scope of knowledge and skills to be addressed and the level of performance to be achieved, are crucial for planning and organizing teaching and learning. From a teacher’s point of view, the design of learning outcomes can pursue two very different objectives: statements can be defined and described in a high level of detail, giving as clear as possible orientation to the teacher. Statements can alternatively be kept at a more general level, leaving room for individual and contextual adaptation. We can find examples of learning outcomes statements being criticized from both perspectives; as being too vague or ambiguous, or being too explicit and controlling. While it is up to stakeholders to decide on this balancing, those involved need to be aware of the inherent tension.
The European Center for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) published the second edition of the handbook Defining, writing and applying learning outcomes 2022, you can get the full report using this link