What, why and how of an outcomes-based syllabus

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TERESITA TANHUECO-TUMAPON

EVER since the Commission on Higher Education issued CHED Memorandum No. 46, s.2012, the ball started rolling to convert the traditional syllabus into an outcomes-based format. The CHED issuance ruled that syllabi adopt the outcomes-based mode of instruction. Academics all over the country devoted serious time to rewrite their respective syllabi based on the suggested format. Section 13 of the CMO states that “CHED is committed to develop competency-based learning standards that comply with international standards when applicable (e.g. outcomes-based education) to achieve quality and enable an effective integration of the intellectual discipline, ethos and values associated with liberal education.” http://pacu.org.ph/wp2/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/CMO-No.46-s2012.pdf. Shortly after this issuance, I noticed that Bloom’s taxonomy resurrected from academic files and many of us academics diligently researched for rubrics. There are those among us who learned for the first time that Bloom’s had undergone transformation in the hands of Anderson and Krathwohl.

A bit of history. “Lorin Anderson was once a student of the famed Benjamin Bloom. David Krathwohl was one of Bloom’s partners as he devised his classic cognitive taxonomy.” They authored the revisions on Bloom’s Taxonomy –“an ordering of cognitive skills.” The taxonomy’s history says that this form of classification of the cognitive domain “had permeated teaching and instructional planning for almost 50 years before it was revised in 2001.” Our source says that “although these crucial revisions were published at the turn of the 21st century, surprisingly there are still educators who have never heard of Anderson and Krathwohl or of their important work in relation to revising Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy.” Since both have worked with Blooms on cognition, “Anderson and Krathwohl, as primary authors, were in a perfect position to orchestrate looking at the classic taxonomy critically.” While that of Blooms (1956) classifies cognition as knowledge, comprehension, analysis, synthesis and evaluation, Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) classifies cognition as knowing, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. “Evaluation and monitoring of intended learning outcomes are important means to determine the quality of higher education” (CHED’s Policy Standard to Enhance QA in Philippine HE through an Outcomes-Based and Typology-Based QA). Furthermore, evaluation and monitoring “facilitate (s) institutional performance along individual learners’ development level, active and experience-based learning and opportunities. These, in turn, reflect learning processes to subsequent improvements.”

What is an outcomes-based syllabus (OBS)? It is a study plan that defines the intended learning outcomes of a course expressed in concrete behavior. At the University of Hong Kong, the transition of study plans which express the intended learning outcomes is referred to as Outcomes-based Teaching and Learning (OBTL). Hence, learning outcomes are supported by teaching and learning activities that make learning outcomes achievable. It is “re-aligning intended learning outcomes with teaching and assessment, focus on what graduates know, what they can do and their personal attributes.”(University of Hong Kong, 2007) Such a syllabus may start with “a statement of what graduates of the institution are supposed to be able to do.” After which at the degree program level is “a statement of what graduates from a particular degree program should be able to do.” Finally, “at the course level, is a statement of what students should be able to do at the completion of a given course.” (Biggs, J. and Tang, C. Teaching for Quality Learning at University, 3rd edition. McGraw Hill, 2007).

Why convert a study plan into an OBS? The traditional way in preparing a course syllabus was to list the topics and corresponding content to be taught, after which questions are to be formulated to determine how much content has been transmitted to students. It is as if learning is assessing how much content is conveyed to students. Biggs (2007) notes that “teaching here is conceived of as a process of transmitting content to the students, so the methods tend to be expository. Assessment focused on checking how well the message has been received.” Consequently, teaching methods are commonly in the form of “lectures and demonstrations, with tutorials for clarification, and exams that rely on reporting back.”


Converting a study plan to an outcomes-based syllabus. In preparing an OBS, we clearly and precisely express the intended learning outcomes of students together with the expected standard of how well such learning outcomes are achieved. We match the learning “with what is supposed to be learned—guiding (us) teachers as to what assessment is appropriate to determine the learning that has been achieved.” This is why rubrics (as discussed with students) are a necessary side tool for assessing the degree of learning that has taken place in a given course. Teachers and students know ahead “how assessment will take place.” In providing a means for students to articulate the knowledge, skills and experience acquired during their program, predetermined assessment criteria tend to be “more objective and fair” and usually “well-defined.” Clarity of what students are expected to learn “helps them to accept responsibility for learning,” as they are now at “the center of the learning process.”<http://cll.mcmaster.ca/COU/degree/outcomes.html>.In this sense, the OBS becomes a strategic way to enhance the delivery of a course.

Learning results of an OBS provide a basis for curriculum planning and revision across levels. Consequently, planning the improved curriculum, implementing it, monitoring and evaluating it translates to quality assurance.
Guided by clearly stated intended learning outcomes, course mentors can better integrate knowledge, attitude and values learned through education—consequently, a more promising success of students in the workplace, a more meaningful life.

Email: ttumapon@liceo.edu.ph

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