Opinion

The Drive to Learning Outcomes Management

Leading colleges and universities are looking for new ways to demonstrate their value to students and stakeholders, with learning outcomes information emerging as a debated—and desired--endpoint.  These stakeholders, including current and prospective students, parents and employers, and government bodies and accrediting agencies are increasingly demanding access to learning outcomes and performance management metrics to ensure that their investments are meeting their needs.

The demand for LOM
College and university administrators are increasingly anxious about filling program slots as a result of new levels of competition and changing student demographics. The mix of students through 2015 is shifting from a traditional base to a "non-traditional" student base, including immigrants and working adults returning to school part time to complete their degree and accelerate their careers. For profit institutions have established a significant presence in higher education by targeting these students, and some are now moving to serve the 18- to 22-year-old audience.

Student-consumers, parents and employers providing educational funding often embrace the view that the value of a student's education is linked to workplace readiness. With this expectation comes a demand for outcomes information in areas such as writing, critical thinking, and problem solving, as well as specific preparation for high-stakes certification and licensure exams found in health care, education, accounting, and other professional disciplines. Accreditation by relevant accrediting agencies is increasingly important as well, as evidenced by Intel's recent decision to limit tuition reimbursement to institutions with regional and specialized accreditation.

Federal and state-level government agencies are encouraging improved reporting of and access to transparent data about variables such as price, costs, student outcomes, and other value-added results of a postsecondary education. The State Higher Education Executive Officers' National Commission on Accountability in Higher Education report cites public access to this information as a priority, delivered in a format that enables better decision-making for consumers and policymakers. Some states have already developed and are refining systems for higher education accountability, providing various stakeholders with state-defined outcomes. In linking federal attention to data gathering with existing state initiatives, Eduventures anticipates that reporting at colleges and universities will focus on aggregated data measurements, including learning outcomes, graduation rates, and broadly accepted assessments of adult literacy, such as the Measure of Academic Proficiency and Progress (MAPP)

Finally, accreditation agencies are placing increasing emphasis on student learning outcomes. These agencies are in the early stages of using metrics to assess and verify institutional progress, an important indicator of institutional quality. Looking forward, trends indicate that institutions are using the accreditation process as a catalyst to examine their internal data as well as to institute data-driven processes to achieve productivity gains.Emerging institutional model for learning outcomes
Administrators and faculty at colleges and universities are beginning to address learning outcomes at several levels and are framing the outputs for both "internal" and "external" stakeholders.  Eduventures believes that institutions are striving to capture outcomes at three levels--student, programmatic, and institutional--and identify the most relevant measures.

  • Institutional Outcomes place emphasis on colleges and universities' need to develop a culture of evidence for student learning and educational impact. While learning outcomes information and data is often driven by accreditation requirements or governmental stakeholders, it is also used by institutional research to incorporate best practices into the teaching and learning environment. Typically, both quantitative and qualitative data that demonstrate student achievement are used, including standardized tests, completion rates and outcomes of licensing examinations.
  • Programmatic/Curricular Outcomes, demonstrate the performance of academic programs across large numbers of students, often using the department or academic major as the unit of measurement. These initiatives manage and record students' learning outcomes over time, identifying the effectiveness of the pedagogy across the curriculum. Vendors seeking to support institutional needs in this category including learning management system (LMS) and services suppliers such as Angel Learning, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, and eCollege, and competency-based assessments solutions such as ETS' Information and Communication Technology test.
  • Student/Course Outcomes incorporate those measurements that highlight the individual student experience (e.g., course grades, transfer rates, fulfillment of graduation criteria), including the performance of a student against established metrics, and students' evaluations of the course delivery experience. Solution providers in this space include:
    • Content providers such as textbook publishers incorporating test banks with their curriculum materials;
    • Platform assessment businesses, including e-Portfolio suppliers including Questionmark;
    • Angel Learning's ePortfolio, Blackboard's ePortfolio, and Nuventive; and
    • Classroom assessment technologies, including "clickers."

At each level, information access is aligned to reporting needs for key stakeholders and provides increased transparency into key, relevant metrics. Moreover, Eduventures believes that the market will evolve as part of a larger outcomes value chain, and while initial institutional efforts may focus on internal stakeholders (e.g., administrators, faculty, students), colleges and universities will increasingly need to illustrate publicly performance vis-à-vis established benchmarks.  

About the Author

About the author: Catherine Burdt is a Senior Analyst within Eduventures' research practice, focusing on educational technology. She is responsible for providing market analysis and insight that will support the development and execution of corporate strategy for many of Eduventures' K-12, postsecondary, and corporate clients. Catherine brings to Eduventures her in-depth knowledge of building technology, developed through her experience working for such technology innovators as Analog Devices and Wang Laboratories. Catherine's expertise includes product and brand management and implementation of initiatives to deliver hardware and software products internationally. She holds an Ed. M. in educational media and technology from Boston University's Graduate School of Education and a B.A. in journalism from Kent State University. Catherine can be reached at cburdt@eduventures.com. For more information on Eduventures, visit www.eduventures.com.

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