The bad faith of learning outcomes

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

Last week's THE brought a blast of clear air honesty in its wake: Frank Furedi on the bad faith of learning outcomes.

Question: "Professor Furedi, how do you get around learning outcomes?"

Answer: "I just make them up and ignore them"

This is, of course, the business of our old friend the QAA, as it tries to tighten its malign grip on higher education.  Here's a section of the THE article ...

On numerous occasions I have been told off by colleagues for making an issue of learning outcomes on the grounds that it merely requires a few minutes of cutting and pasting to produce them. Yet learning outcomes are not just another banal instrument deployed to monitor and quantify the achievements of students. The very purpose of this organisational instrument is to accomplish a shift in emphasis from learning to outcomes. This is a technique through which a utilitarian ethos to academic life serves to diminish what would otherwise be an open-ended experience for student and teacher alike. Those who advocate learning outcomes do so expressly with the aim of abolishing such experiences, which is why they so vociferously target anything that smacks of ambiguity. Oxford Brookes University's statement on "Writing Aims and Learning Outcomes", for example, warns members of staff against using terms such as "know", "understand", "be familiar with", "appreciate" or "be aware of" because "they're not subject to unambiguous test".

Furedi says there are at least four compelling arguments against the use of learning outcomes in higher education. First, they threaten to disrupt the conduct of the academic relationship between teacher and student.  Second, they foster a climate that inhibits the capacity of students and teachers to deal with uncertainty.  Third, they devalue the art of teaching which depends on exercising judgement based on experience.  Fourth, the regime of learning outcomes breeds a culture of cynicism and irresponsibility.

Read on for detailed arguments – but ask yourself if you need to set any learning outcomes before you do.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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