The educational paradigm
The diagram below shows how learning outcomes interrelate with teaching and learning methods, assessment, and evaluation and quality assurance. The teacher’s role is to ensure that each session integrates with the whole curriculum by providing opportunities for learners to achieve the stated objectives and thus be capable of passing assessments.
When planning a session or programme, paying attention to how the objectives or outcomes will be achieved (through appropriate teaching and learning methods), assessed and evaluated requires active and overt consideration of the educational process: the interaction of teachers, students and knowledge. Stenhouse (1975) thought of an objective-led curriculum as an educational ‘straghtjacket’, proposing a shift to a process-driven model in which the facilitation of learning is the central concern, and outcomes become unpredictable. Hussey and Smith (2008) call this the ‘corridor of tolerance’, allowing space for learning outcomes to emerge through the learning process.
Later writers, such as Grundy (1987), suggest that any curriculum is continually mediated and developed, a concept which in some ways can lead to uncertainty, particularly in medicine, where one of the requirements of training is that learners need to acquire specific competences. Defining very detailed instructional objectives is highly appropriate if, for example, we are trying to specify the core components of a clinical skill, but it can sometimes detract from the learning process and lead to an educationally impoverished curriculum.
A thoughtful curriculum includes outcomes with varying levels of detail, enabling the achievement of tasks, while acknowledging the importance of the process of learning. Health professions’ curricula are now re-emphasising the importance of students and trainees having opportunity to become immersed in clinical contexts and learning through experience. An example of a process objective might be: ‘to spend time with the district nurse and explore how the service works’.
See Curriculum design and development in ‘Explore around this topic’ for more information about the wider aspects of course planning and design, including curriculum mapping and how learning outcomes relate to setting assessment criteria as part of curriculum alignment.