Usi ng L e arn i ng Ou tcom es to By Dan Wrona
he days when it was acceptable to throw programs at problems are over. The growing emphasis on assessment and accountability in higher education demands that fraternity/sorority professionals discover how to measure what was previously considered immeasurable (ACPA & NASPA, 2004). The current economic crisis requires that we intentionally produce what was previously thought to be accidental and that we do so with fewer resources. The fraternity/sorority profession is entering an era when every initiative must be undertaken carefully and intentionally. Fortunately, a few lessons from professional development trainers demonstrate how to use learning outcomes to achieve measurable gains in student learning and development. The American Society for Training and Development recognizes the ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) model as the professional standard for developing learning experiences. The guidelines below are adapted from this model and can aid in developing educational efforts that are much more intentional, effective, and measurable (Molenda, 2003).
Precisely Define Performance Consider that GPS device on the dashboard of your car. Type in the coordinates of your favorite vacation spot, and it will respond with precise directions to the doorstep of an oceanfront hotel. But what if your coordinates are incorrect, vague, or imaginary? You might end up in the right state but the wrong city, the right city on the wrong street, or the right street on the wrong block. Your dream vacation would fall short of its promise. Defining learning outcomes requires the same precision. It is easy to make a few rough guesses for the conference program proposal or for an important pitch to your supervisor. Even these vague ideas will lead to increased learning, but measurable changes in performance are not likely to follow. If you are ready to become more intentional in your use of learning outcomes, start by clearly identifying the exact change in knowledge, skill, or attitude that you want to affect. Consider the following example. A typical program summary might state, “students will develop their capacity for leadership.” At first glance this makes sense, but after careful analysis, many interpretations arise. What exactly does this mean? What performance are we trying to generate? The intent of the program could be that students will be able to do any of the following: • Describe major leadership theories • Report on academic research in leadership • Delegate responsibility to other members • Use confrontation skills to foster accountability • Accept more positions and responsibilities • Agree that leadership is a good idea
Any of these is a reasonable option, but each one achieves a different result. For the sake of example, assume the real goal in this situation is for students to “use confrontation skills to foster accountability.” This, again, sounds like a valid learning outcome, but the statement leaves the door open to many possibilities. Use some of the following questions to identify the precise results you want to achieve: • What problem are you really trying to solve? • What lesson should students carry away with them? • When and where should students put this lesson to use? • Describe the typical scenario. How will the information, skill, or attitude be applied? • What factors would support successful performance? These questions help further refine “use confrontation skills to foster accountability” into “students will: • Identify three issues that must be confronted immediately • Construct a scenario for each confrontation • Rehearse the key steps of confrontation • Identify and respond to anticipated roadblocks • Describe how to prepare for additional confrontations” Reaching this level of precision with your learning outcomes increases the likelihood that you will achieve them. It also provides clear direction about which educational techniques are the most appropriate. continued on page 20
Spring 2009 / Perspectives
AFA Perspectives Spring 2009