How To Align Essential Content with Learning Outcomes

October 20, 2021 Tayler Conklin

The idea of aligning learning outcomes with content isn’t new. But Kathy Telban, Chief Executive Manager for The Learning Organization, has a fresh approach to help educators visualize aligning their outcomes and content.

In a recent Watermark webinar, Telban shared ways for educators to effectively shift their thinking and design curriculum so students can apply their learning to real-life roles and societal situations after graduation. This approach is especially helpful for higher education institutions and community colleges that offer a broad range of programs and serve a wide range of students.

So whether you provide on-the-job training, college prep programs, single course certifications, or teach at a four-year institution, Telban’s fresh approach to aligning content with learning outcomes has great value for every type of educator.

A Paradigm Shift for Course Outcome Assessment

Telban says this paradigm shift requires educators to view themselves as akin to a whitewater rafting guide in the back of the raft, where they can see what the paddlers (or learners) are doing, with just enough time to provide feedback as they navigate the rapids. The guides are all-seeing and keep everyone in the raft and on the correct path. This is exactly what educators are doing for their learners: Providing a path guided by feedback, experiences, and helpful tools that lead the learner to achieve specific outcomes. So how do educators achieve this vision?

Designing Backward to Teach Forward: A Three-Step Process

Essential content is defined by outcomes. Educators should think about what learners need to inherit from the curriculum, which requires them to design backward to teach forward. “When we think about envisioning learning outcomes, and we think about them as we’ve identified some great roles, we’re really designing backward from those roles, from the outside-in perspective: being able to define the outcomes and then deriving subject matter from them,” Telban said.

These three steps make it simple:

  1. First, envision your outcomes. Your learning outcomes will connect with the vision you have for your learners outside the classroom in their real-life roles. This establishes a strong intention and focus for the rest of the design process. Having a clearly defined, motivational outcome will set the stage for the learning content.
  2. The next step is to create the learning outcome assessment. In a previous post, we outlined the differences between direct and indirect measurements. Think about the type of assessment you’re creating and administering and its connection to the desired outcomes. According to Telban, this step provides a wonderful opportunity to challenge the outcomes to see if they need to be revised or more focused.
  3. Finally, decide on the concepts, skills, and issues the content will cover. These elements are the essential content. This is the set of skills learners need to understand, develop, or resolve to achieve the defined outcomes.

This entire process is a search for alignment. Continually ask yourself if you are thinking about “depth, not breadth,” Telban said.

To learn more about Telban’s process for using learning outcomes to determine essential content, check out our on-demand webinar.

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