Intended Learning Outcomes matter

October 12, 2012

MOOCs, self generated OER based curricula, kite-marking schemes, and elaborate credit transfer schemes are a reality in increasingly complex higher education sector. Students often pursuing studies from within the world of work where physical mobility of employable precludes commitment to a single campus based programme over four years require well defined, constructively aligned, module designs. Clever module design means clever programme design, clever portfolios and successful institutions. Learning design is no longer just an issue for the Quality Office; the Strategy people are beginning to care too.

The vast majority of UK Universities now are able to produce detailed module and programme specifications for their teaching programmes. Specification templates usually detail the aims and objectives, resources, indicative scheme of work, staffing and mode of delivery. They also routinely use a template to generate the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO) for the module or programme. Frequently divided into three or four sections covering, knowledge and understanding, intellectual skills (cognitive domain), professional and practical skills (affective domain) and general transferable skills (psychomotor skills), these templates are completed with varying degrees of comprehension as module validation panels will attest.

The logic is that to achieve a well-structured and constructively aligned curricula, the module team should determine what the ILOs for the module are to be (Biggs & Tang, 2007). What will the learner be able to do at the end of the module? Having determined the ILOs the team would then determine how they would enable the student to demonstrate achievement of the outcomes and draft an appropriate assessment strategy. Then, and only then, the module design team would look at what the student needed to be able to demonstrate and work out what was needed as input. Outcomes first, assessment second, teaching inputs third.

It’s not an easy thing to do. As teachers we’re passionate about our subjects, anxious to impart what we know is important, what ‘did it for us’, and at some point in this process many faculty will ‘go native’, reach for the seminal text (or the nearest thing to it, their own book), and start thinking about what the students need to know. This can of course produce fantastic learning experiences and there are a great many exciting modules drafted on the backs of envelopes without specification templates. They don’t make for effective records of achievement however.

Accreditation of prior accredited learning has always been a challenge. An effective template for module and programme design makes a significant difference. Students should be able to identify from their transcript exactly what it is they can evidence as intended learning outcomes. I would argue further that phases in learning and teaching activity should also have notable objectives that map directly to the ILOs (See the SOLE model described in Atkinson, 2011).

So how many intended learning outcomes, how many affective, how many cognitive, how many is too many? My next post will be my reasoning on that issue.

Atkinson, S. (2011). Developing faculty to integrate innovative learning in their practice with the SOLE model. In S. Ferris (Ed.), Teaching, Learning and the Net Generation: Concepts and Tools for Reaching Digital Learners. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the Student does (3rd ed.). Buckingham. GB: Open University Press.

Ending the year as a non-Cartesian?

December 31, 2011

There is something slightly disturbing about checking the web for uses of your work. One finds the odd undergraduate presentation that has ‘borrowed’ a graphic, or quoted your quotes as notes, and other lyrical misdemeanours. One even risks finding oneself renamed, although I have to say I find ‘Simorn’ a little too contemporary for my tastes. What is particularly interesting is to find oneself cited in such a way that one is ‘designated’, purposed as a standard bearer for a position one didn’t know one held. I’m intrigued to find that my IRRODL article on the SOLE model from February 2011 served as an illustration of ‘applied non-cartesian concepts’ by (20.03.13 Page now removed) . Fascinating.

Sorry to have missed JISC Design Bash

September 30, 2011

It was a real shame (I’m rarely disappointed) to have had to miss the JISC/CETIS Design Bash in Oxford today. I was very much looking forward to catching up with progress on the LDSE and sharing the SOLE model iteration described in Madison-Wisconsin in August. In the end the meeting I had to attend would have done fine without me, but that’s the way things fall and “beggars can’t be choosers” (or as we say in modern parlance, “the salaried do as they’re told”).

Design Bash

I imagine there was a great deal of interest in Oxford today. The pressure on organisations to share learning designs, share practice, and share efficacies shows no sign of abating. I look forward very much to catching up as best I can with what’s on Cloudworks for this years event.

ALDinHE Belfast 2010

April 30, 2011
Simon and Russell

Simon Atkinson and Russel Gurbutt (University of Leeds) discussing e-learning adoption strategies

ALDinHE 2011 was a relatively small professional conference with some 120 colleagues from across a diverse range of UK Higher Education institutions. The theme was “Engaging Students – Engaging Learning” although, with some noticeable exceptions, much of the conference was concerned primarily with the challenges we face as educational (or academic) developers.

There was a lot of discussion about ‘teaching’ to engage students but too little emphasis for me on the designing in to the learning the engagement we say we expect. Still it was a useful and interesting opportunity to get reacquainted with some former colleagues form the Open University and for the University of Hull.

I had two posters at the conference, a solo effort with the SOLE model (see and download the poster from and a joint effort with Kevin Burden from the University of Hull featuring the DiAL-e framework work we have been doing since 2006. Details of the that poster and the workshop that I ran on Wednesday 20th April are available at the website. The workshop ran using a single webpage on the wordpress site so you are welcome to access the workshop resources. The post conference requests for “your PowerPoint” leave me frustrated!

Embodied and Embedded Guidance (SOLE v1.2)

September 24, 2010

The original intention of the SOLE Learning Design model and its associated toolkit was, and remains, to embed academic professional development support ‘inside’ a learning development ‘tool’ and to embody good practice.

This isn’t as simple as it sounds but I have to say I’m enjoying the attempt. The SOLE Model (Student-Owned Learning-Engagement Model) was first mooted at the end of 2009 and previewed at DEANZ in Wellington, NZ in April 2010. In July 2010 it was presented as a work in progress at the LAMS European Learning Design conference and a cloud floated on

The response has been interesting, such a simple tool (Excel!) but an easy one to use, and for some, well suited to their approach. For me, the issue has been about producing a tangible product that the student will see, and potentially manipulate. That the student can see, and engage with the learning design is, I think, significant.


Comments within the Worksheets provide advice and guidance

Version 1.2 of the SOLE ‘Toolkit’ has been uploaded today and a number of support videos (linked to from within the workbook) have been loaded onto channel. The inclusion student feedback on time spent, the inclusion of Intended Learning Outcomes on each student view, and the development of significant guidance and advice on each element of the model makes me feel Version 1.2 is ready! But, there is more work to be done on the advice and guidance in particular and I am considering how that may link in time to pages here on WordPress. I would like if possible to keep it very much ‘self-contained’ within the toolkit but user feedback may change that.

See the SOLE Model pages for Version1.2

LAMS Learning Design Conference Presentation

September 6, 2010

Finally this weekend got around to putting the slides to the audio that was recorded at the European LAMS & Learning Design Conference 2010. I’ve uploaded the presentation to YouTube in two parts. Part 1 essentially introduces the Student-Owned Learning-Engagement (SOLE) model itself and Part 2 highlights the recent version of the toolkit in Excel.

Part 1: The Model

Part 2: The Toolkit

SOLE Model Illustrated

May 13, 2010

The following brief video presentation was prepared for a Course Team workshop to introduce the SOLE Model.

The SOLE model is intended to be developmental, evaluative and descriptive. It is borne out of a desire to make the learning design process transparent to students, to encourage staff to share ‘patterns’ of learning with each other and to provide a basis for self-evaluation and development of specific learning designs. The model is not concerned with the design of specific learning activities but rather the appropriate balance between the different modes of student engagement anticipated.

The model does not prevent an academic scheduling four hours contact time a week and delivering a didactic lecture, but it would illuminate clearly that that was the approach being undertaken. Likewise, the model in and of itself does not prevent staff from reproducing an identical pattern of learning every week through a paper or course, but again, the models’ associated toolkit would make that process clear.

The SOLE model is not prescriptive and it is possible for teams to change and modify any aspect of the toolkit to suit their needs. The intention however is to provide staff with a model of effective practice such that one might be concerned about the quality of the student learning experience if the model illustrated a consistently ‘unbalanced’ approach.


One would anticipate that the visualisation generated by the toolkit would reflect a pattern of learning that differ from paper to paper, and from week to week. One could anticipate for example that in the first week of an undergraduate paper there would be significantly more ‘teacher-centeredness’ than in the twelfth week of a postgraduate paper. The visualisation will differ; the patterns can be expected to reflect different levels of engagement.

Centrality of Biggs Constructive Alignment

It is no coincidence that the model places the intended learning outcomes (ILO) at the centre. In each constructively aligned paper the pattern will be different because the learning outcomes, the assessment designed to illicit evidence of attainment and the patterns of teaching required to support that process will each be different. The SOLE model is precisely that, a model not a template. The model can, and should be adapted by staff to suit their particular approach to learning. It should reflect the nature both of their discipline, students existing context and the specific teaching environment.

A discussion paper will be posted late May 2010

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