ENQA organised a fifth training session/workshop for experts for agency reviews on 5-6 September 2011 in London, UK.
Learning outcomes are described as written statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand and/or be able to do at the end of a period of learning. At the beginning of the 90s, a EU pilot project on ECTS showed that study programmes were much easier to compare if they were described in terms of outcomes, instead of inputs. Learning outcomes started to gain importance at policy level and have been then supported by the development of national qualifications frameworks (Berlin Communiqué), the adoption of the ESG, the overarching outcomes-focused Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (FQEHEA) (Bergen Communiqué) and the European Qualifications Frameworks for Lifelong Learning. The ESG and Qualifications Frameworks are having an increasing influence on quality assurance procedures.
The results of an ENQA survey on quality procedures of quality assurance agencies across Europe and beyond (2008) witnessed the education’s shift from a teaching to a learning focus and the methods of agencies are more and more based on learning outcomes. This survey revealed that learning outcomes only start to be addressed in external QA at programme and institutional level procedures.
QA agencies cannot ignore student-centered learning and learning outcomes, which are part of the Bologna reform agenda. The importance of learning outcomes will increase for several reasons. Firstly, learning outcomes make qualifications more transparent for students. Then, the range of graduates is becoming wider and thanks to learning outcomes, employers may have a better understanding of the acquired knowledge, skills and competences in order to recruit the most suitable candidate. Learning outcomes benefit for quality assurance as they increase transparency and comparability between qualifications standards. Learning outcomes are also valuable in terms of course design.
Naturally, objections have also been expressed with regard to student-centred learning and learning outcomes. They mainly question the focus on the individual learner, the difficulties in the formulation and implementation, and the inappropriate approach to higher education and academic study.
The workshop addressed the question of what stakeholders expect from quality assurance agencies in connection with learning outcome orientation. The opportunities and challenges of the learning outcome orientation in the higher education sector were discussed from different perspectives. The workshop tried to define the role that learning outcomes should play in external quality assurance and how they can or should be considered within the scope of external quality assurance.
The workshop programme can be found here.