Learner Centered Course Goals
By Mark Ferrer
The brave new Learning Centered universe starts
here, at the cobbled rings of goal and objective setting. Step over
its rim and a comfortable gravity will help you take the next defining
step on your teaching journey. If you are unfamiliar with learning-centeredness,
or if your forays within it have been tentative, we promise that the
guided process offered below will gently, but definitively, draw you
into becoming a learning-centered instructor.
Proceeding will transform; your approach will move from content- to
learning-centered; you will depart the instructional paradigm to enter
the learning paradigm. Who wouldnt change a singularity for
a stellar nursery?
Setting goals and objectives are among the critical
activities that distinguish the making of a learning syllabus from
simply putting information on paper or online. The war of the paradigms
-- Instructional vs. Learning -- generates many battles on this front.
There is a false dichotomy lurking in the propaganda of these war
machines. The New Paradigm seems more critical of the old than is
wise. Teachers, as it turns out, are always the ones who make the
changes, consider the alternatives, keep the process moving, make
the new paradigms.
What distinguishes this Learning movement
is its focus on student success. Teachers are very good about explaining,
making presentations, making good sense, talking to students. But
we think most often in terms of our discipline, our subject, and are
not trained or certain that we need to be experts in learning as well
as in our content area. The new paradigm, as a first step, invites
us to move beyond our curriculum expertise, to draw on the work of
instructional designers, learning theorists, cognitive scientists
to help us zero in on helping students master and become interested
in the material we teach. The thought that we could help students
learn is very seductive. We havent seen ourselves as being the
ones to help students learn to learn, to communicate, to study, to
master critical skills. Leaving that teaching to experts in Basic
Skills or to counselors has not produced the results they and we want,
not for their lack of knowledge or accomplishment, but because the
skills and attitudes need to be taught continuously in all classes,
in the context of real learning events, or they dont stick.
The Learning Paradigm emphasizes real world application, communication,
constant improvement for teacher and student. This only happens across
disciplines. The way to start participating in the integration of
learning skills is by setting goals and objectives that emphasize
"Doing," and to implement assessment practices that monitor
progress, success, failure so that change is sustained and growth
Setting goals is a lever that allows us to hoist
significant change into place in our courses. One of the important
changes is to stop thinking in terms of what we want to do with the
course Teaching Goals--and shift to articulating what students
will be able to do as a result of the course and our assistance.
This is not a natural activity for most of us. It takes some doing
and seeing results to make it second nature.
What will the course do for my students?
How will the course benefit them?
What should my students be able to
do upon completion of this course?
You can stay on a learning-centered track by keeping
those questions in mind when you plan your course. The first question
is your reminder to discover and emphasize how course material relates
to the lives and futures of your students. This is an important component
in building a learning environment that nurtures
intrinsic motivation. The second question keeps
your focus on the difference between, What will my students
know at the end of the course? and, What
will my students be able to do at the end of the course?
This distinction is critical because setting goals based on DO
naturally prompts you to design assignments and assessments that require
your students to think in ways that push them higher on Blooms
scale. Setting KNOW goals tends to restrict
assignment and assessment design to the Knowledge level of the Taxonomy.
Understand that thinking of learning objectives
in terms of what the students will be able to do is a defining moment
in the move from being an instruction-centered to learning-centered.
Constructing good learning objectives places an emphasis on what
the student learns as opposed to whether the teacher has "covered
the material" and made good presentations. Consider the following
table, from Huba and Freed's Learner-Centered Assessment on College
Campuses, for other aspects of the shift from the information-centered
to the learning-centered paradigm:
See also Barr and Tagg (1995);
Bonstingl (1992); Boyatzis, Cowen, Kolb and Associates (1995);
Duffy and Jones (1995); and Kleinsasser (1995). Experiencing
a Paradigm Shift Through Assessment 5
Reflection improves teaching. Setting personal
goals pushes us and our students to improve. For instance, a helpful
personal goal would be one you set because you want to address issues
raised by students from the previous term; another personal goal about
your own teaching might be that you improve your use of lecture by
mastering the punctuated
lecture approach. Whatever
you choose, naming it and planning to work on it will result in growth.
The same is true for students. You (and/or your
institution and department) identify the learning objectives [the
DO goals for the course] so that your students
will master the course material as they progress toward those goals.
This is simple cybernetics: goal-directed behavior is more likely
to result in accomplishment of the objective than random behavior.
Because this is the case, setting the goals and objectives in your
course is a critically important activity.
First, a word about semantics. Educators sometimes
distinguish between goal and objective.. The
University of Arkansas Components of the Syllabus site
(http://www.opnsmgmt.uark.edu/moreinfo/forms/componentsofasyllabus.doc) makes the distinction by saying that goals should be general
statements of intended outcomes and that objectives should be specific
statements including measurable and observable terms. Perhaps more
commonly, at least within the learning-centered paradigm, outcomes
are stated as objectives because the concept of DO with
the knowledge is a natural consequence of active learning
and moves students higher on Blooms Taxonomy. To save confusion
in this section, lets agree that goal is used to
mean the benefits students derive from taking the course. Well
use objective to mean the behaviors your students
will be able to demonstrate at the end of the course or the end of
a unit. This is a logical and learning-centered distinction: students
doing with the course content means they are
working at the higher levels of Blooms Taxonomy compared to
students knowing the course content, which
is a Knowledge-level Taxonomy placement.
Heres a nutshell approach to course
Find the benefits to the students as a
result of taking the course and publicize them.
This means youll have to elicit this information from
current students in order to share it with future students.
Heres a nutshell approach to learning