Program Learning Outcomes
Program learning outcomes identify the minimum level that graduates must achieve to be successful in a program.
In particular, program learning outcomes frame what will be learned and assessed and the nature of learning activity experienced within the course.
Features of program learning outcomes
Program learning outcomes identify the minimum level that students must achieve to graduate from that program. In particular, they frame what will be learned and assessed.
Program learning outcomes are shaped by the:
- essential knowledge, skills, and the application of that knowledge and skills of the appropriate qualification descriptors of the Australian Qualifications Framework
- University's strategic goals and priorities, including graduate attributes
- requirements of the discipline through threshold learning outcomes or other subject statements
- relevant stakeholder standards and expectations including professional and industry associations, employers, workforce planning and priorities
- standards for professional accreditation, where applicable
Program learning outcomes have particular characteristics, they:
- define the scope and depth of the program
- focus on the end-point of the program
- are framed at a high level of generalisation
- use language that is comprehensible to students and prospective students
- identify what 'typical' students will know and be able to do on graduation
- are measurable, realistic and achievable within the context and timeframe
- are realised through component courses over the extent of the program
- are demonstrated through course assessment, particularly in final year courses, and especially through capstones.
Integrating the range of curriculum requirements and stakeholder interests
All programs are subject to multiple (and sometimes conflicting) curriculum demands from accreditation groups, university priorities, discipline standards, etc., and no single framework meets all of these demands.
A practical way to approach the task of writing program learning outcomes is to choose one of the required curriculum frameworks and to integrate the other demands/frameworks into it.
Where programs are accredited it may be useful to begin with the framework provided by the accrediting group and then to incorporate the other components.
Where the curriculum is not subject to accreditation, the Graduate Attributes or Threshold Learning Outcomes (where they exist) provide a valuable starting point.
The final statements should meet the specifications of all required frameworks but may not include all discretionary aspects identified by stakeholders because of conflicts with required elements or other considerations.
Feedback to stakeholders should include a rationale for the excluded aspects.
Because program learning outcomes identify the minimum that students need in order to be successful in the award, they must be attainable by a 'typical' student in a reasonable timeframe while engaging in supportive learning processes.
Assessment rubrics make provision for a range of attainment but pass levels in the final year of the award should be tied to program learning outcomes.
When writing the program learning outcomes you might find it useful to keep in mind the following key questions:
- What are the most important aspects of the discipline that your graduates need to know and do as a result of completing this program?
- How does this compare with program learning outcomes for similar programs at other comparable universities (e.g. Go8s)?
- What is your rationale for including the identified aspects of the discipline?
- What is your rationale for excluding aspects of the discipline that are included in other similar awards or which are valued by stakeholders?
- Are the program learning outcomes indicative of the expectations of a graduate at the relevant level in the Australian Qualifications Framework?
- Do the program learning outcomes incorporate the Graduate Attributes?
- How do the statements reference stakeholder views including accrediting bodies?
- Which component courses provide the opportunity to demonstrate achievement of the program learning outcomes through assessment?
- Are the statements broad enough to allow the achievement of the outcomes to be demonstrated through a variety of approaches and experiences?
- Are the statements specific enough to determine whether minimum standards have been met?
- Do the statements take account of the interests of the range of stakeholders (TEQSA, accrediting bodies, employers, etc.)?
- Are the program learning outcomes expressed in terms of:
- stem – in future tense: 'On the completion of this program the graduate will be able to: ....'
- active verb – indicating the nature of the student activity—specifically what you want them to know, consider or do—typically expressed in verbs such as 'understand', 'synthesise', 'write', 'debate' and 'differentiate'.
- focus – indicating the process, product or outcome of the action such as 'theories', research plan' and 'principles of ethical research'
- condition – (optional) indicating any conditions that may apply such as '...using the appropriate referencing system', '...as identified in ..', and ...relevant to...'