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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Learning outcomes approach in British Columbia’s colleges and university colleges Sunell, Susanne


This study investigated the suitability of adopting a learning outcomes approach as a strategy for educational reform in British Columbia's colleges and university colleges. It focused on the views of institutional and department administrators during the initial implementation phase through a questionnaire (n=313), interviews (n=58) and the analysis of provincial documents. Study participants had varied reactions to a learning outcomes approach ranging from strong support to overt resistance. Proponents viewed it as a philosophical shift from teaching to learning involving themes such as transparency, integrated curricula, holistic curricula, and a learner-centered focus. However, many viewed learning outcomes as being similar to their current approach. Opponents viewed the approach as being too simplistic, too limiting and unsupported by evidence. Its central position in the reform agenda was questioned. The barriers to its implementation included competing priorities, lack of resources, faculty workload, organizational culture, pedagogical issues, concerns about the vocationalization of postsecondary education and its perceived relationship to the provincial government's accountability movement. Approximately one third of respondents who had made changes identified them as valuable to their programs and courses. However, respondents from academic areas had less involvement, less interest in integration and perceived it as less valuable than respondents from applied areas. The value of the approach resonated at the theoretical level, but often disappeared in the practice context particularly at the course level. It was viewed as being particularly valuable in applied areas, but was most often described as a refinement. The learning outcomes approach was too abstract to provide a vision for reform. While there have been changes in specific courses and programs, the policy did not have a provincial impact from a pedagogical or accountability perspective. The term has been integrated into many organizational documents, but it is unclear if these changes translated into more relevant learning experiences or more valid assessment approaches. The discussions generated about best practices have been the greatest impact of the policy. It forced faculty members to challenge and defend their educational practices. This may be the ultimate legacy of the learning outcomes policy in British Columbia.

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