Most classes begin with a syllabus that outlines the coming term. You’re probably familiar with that riveting first day when the professor reviews the syllabus to ensure you understand term structure and content. There’s also usually a long period of time reserved for taking attendance and learning names.

This cliche is based on traditional forms of education which focus on the professor. Most universities place the professor in the center of their business model. Their research is emphasized, and the success of their studies defines the success of the institution. Meanwhile, students in this model sit near the bottom of the institution’s priority list despite organizational mission statements that tout inclusivity, learning objectives, and a learner-centered approach. While research is crucial to furthering the work completed by professors and their pupils, the focus should instead lie in student learning outcomes.

The problem with lectures 

Photo by Nicole Honeywell

The lecture has existed since well before the printing press, when students’ only learning opportunity was to take notes from an oral presentation.  The familiar set up includes an instructor standing at a podium in the front of a room, with pupils sitting at desks or on benches all around the podium, a few of them dozing in the back. There are several other options when it comes to room layout including a horseshoe and pod. These set ups differ in where the desks are placed, but the instructor remains the focus in the room and it reflects the focus of the course in that the students are not at the center. Lecturing has proven effective for thousands of people, but it leaves many students (not just the ones who fell asleep) behind by not addressing differences in learning styles. Studies have shown that traditional lecturing increases failure rates by 55% when compared to active learning strategies.

Changing the approach from lecturing to more interactive learning strategies allows students to apply concepts in real time, speeding up the learning process and giving students a clearer path to course success. Click To Tweet

Lecturing doesn’t just reduce student success rates. Instructors also often struggle with this cookie-cutter approach. One reason for this is that many PhD students never receive public speaking training. Lecturing itself is a specific type of public speaking that many never master. It can create a feeling of burnout and inadequacy, leaving professors and student teachers ill equipped to adjust to the classroom. Upholding a lecture-based education also allows mentors to fall into routines that do little to sharpen their skills as a teacher, researcher, or practitioner in their field. 

Changing the approach from lecturing to more interactive learning strategies allows students to apply concepts in real time, speeding up the learning process and giving students a clearer path to course success. Alternating different techniques is especially helpful for learners to absorb more information because it requires them to actively participate in the learning process. Even changing a student’s seat in the classroom begins to engage them differently because it disrupts their routine. Instructing tactics should change regularly in ways that motivate learners to own their education instead of allowing them to take the back seat (pun intended). 

Explaining “why” 

Outcome-based education allows for a holistic approach to teaching which not only adjusts for different learning styles and lays out clear expectations, but also provides reasons why those expectations and goals are beneficial. Understanding why curriculum is important, especially in applied degrees, adds credibility to the material and helps learners own the learning process rather than regurgitating information that does not add value for them. 

Students benefit from seeing the larger picture of a project or class. Explaining why curriculum is important offers context and for learners to see farther than the objective in front of them. When they’re allowed to contextualize, they are more likely to invest their time and energy into learning not just for the duration of the course, but apply that learning to their careers as well. It also helps them to connect concepts from outside the classroom to the ones inside the classroom. Helping learners conceptualize real world examples increases their understanding of the subject and they are more likely to enjoy it in the process.

Course organization 

A stack of colorful papers and files
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon

Traditional universities typically provide strict course structure which guides students through a term schedule. Many of the course outlines are based on the premise that the incoming learners do not have prior knowledge in that subject. This rigid approach assumes instructors exist to fill an empty mind rather than engage with a mind that already has both real world and academic experiences that may apply to the course. This is yet another way that many professors in traditional universities do not allow students to actively engage in the material. 

Course organization is important, certainly, but the danger lies in rigidity. Instructors must allow for flexibility when inviting students into the learning process. Course flexibility allows for a personal touch and informal learning strategies which promote individual participation. After understanding how learners relate to the course material, instructors can engage with them more meaningfully which results in higher pass rates and student satisfaction.  

Real world benefits 

These days, more and more students remain in the workforce while completing their degrees. One of the key benefits to outcome-based education when it applies to the learner’s profession, is that course concepts can be immediately applied to said profession. The personalized nature of outcome-based learning gives room for discussion and immediate skill application. This gives rise to greater focus both in and outside the classroom, as well as project efficiency.  

Instead of waiting for the degree to produce employment opportunities, each course has a significant chance to positively impact the learner’s workplace. Additionally, the practicality of the outcome-based approach encourages mentors to include their own professional experience in the instruction. This supplements conceptual understanding and broadens context in that learners can understand real world applications more thoroughly. 

Establishing desired outcomes 

Outcome-based education places a useful framework in the center of the curriculum. Setting achievable goals begins with a realistic time frame and an objective. The best way to ensure success is to take a goal statement and work backward in order to create meaningful realistic steps. Creating outcome-based curriculum is no small task, but the results significantly outweigh the creation efforts. It requires data and consistent curriculum management to ensure the outcomes and the steps to get there are realistic, challenging, and effective. And it’s what sets California Southern University apart from many of its competitors. 

Online institutions have an advantage in creating these systems, but traditional institutions also have an opportunity to adopt outcome-based education. Click To Tweet

Outcome-based education acts as a framework through which curriculum may be evaluated and altered to fit student needs. Personalizing the higher education system is needed now more than ever as the economy continues to shift and the need for professionals with higher degrees increases. It removes the traditional format of lecturing, quizzes, essays, and tests, and replaces it with rigorous, relevant coursework that enriches and engages learners on a higher level than traditional formats can provide. 

The assumption of this approach is that every student is capable of exceeding expectations. This contrasts with the traditional approach in that the latter assumes at least a few will fall behind. This concept is outdated and ignores varying needs of students who hold different learning styles and balance competing priorities in their lives. Outcome-based learning expands opportunities and the ability to apply knowledge immediately. It allows instructors to recognize progress differently and set clear expectations with students at the center of the model. 

Under outcome-based education, mentors outline course objectives and projects that align with them instead of a conventional syllabus. The outline creates a clear path on which learners can travel at their desired pace. Online institutions have an advantage in creating these systems, but traditional institutions also have an opportunity to adopt this framework. Higher education institutions must focus on learner engagement in order to adapt to the changing learning environment and focusing on outcomes empowers that focus. Student participation in higher education is one of the biggest challenges for instructors, and outcome-based education is the best way to tackle it. 


What are your thoughts? What aspects of outcome-based education are missing? Would you like to know more about these concepts in future posts? Let me know in the comments!

Three students sit at a wooden table with books and notebooks in front of them.

About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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