A thread. Courtesy of required online training.

Learning Outcomes aren't outcomes of learning. They’re not even goals. They’re directives.

They tell students what & how they’re expected to learn. They don’t allow other learning processes or knowledge to be considered valid.
To be quite literal about it, Learning Outcomes aren’t outcomes if we pre-determine them. By definition. According to the OED:

"Outcome: the way a thing turns out; a consequence"

And maybe that’s semantic, but it actually seems to be rooted in the gradual linguistic shift from “Learning Objectives” to “Learning Outcomes” that came along with administrators’ decrease in trust and increase in oversight of faculty. But I digress.

By making Learning Outcomes the only assessable elements of the course, we’re communicating to students that regardless of their experience or the knowledge they bring with them, anything they learn beyond those items doesn’t matter.

As institutions clamp down on what will or won’t pass for learning in the COVID environment (whatever that is), we need to resist being throttled by Learning Outcomes, those narrow definitions of learning. Learning can and should be expansive and limitless.

Students learn well beyond what’s stated in Learning Outcomes. They learn, for example, that teachers do or don’t trust them. They learn that they need to self-direct differently to manage learning from home, and they’re navigating that learning without us.

That doesn’t make it any less valid; it actually makes it MORE so. More meaningful and resonant. They’re figuring out new processes—new ways of learning. On their own. We should stand up and cheer for them.

Self-reflective student-led assessments allow us to confirm that “collateral learning” (Dewey). Student self-evaluations let us validate the unanticipated outcomes, which matter just as much as—if not more than—the reductive, anticipatory outcomes required on syllabi.

By asking students to self-assess, we invite them to become our partners in subverting a system that is stacked against learning—against learners—for the benefit of states and accreditors who want quantitative data sets and easy boxes to check as proof of “learning.”

Especially in this fluid educational environment, with all kinds of learning happening that I could never anticipate, I’ll be asking the students to write the course Learning Outcomes. At the end of the semester. When real outcomes happen.

I plan to include this statement to students on my syllabi with some Learning Objectives and a blank space for Learning Outcomes. (We’ll see if I get my hand slapped…) Feel free to use and adapt as needed. FIN.
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