Working Paper

A perspective on learning outcomes in curriculum and assessment



Priestley M (2016) A perspective on learning outcomes in curriculum and assessment.

First paragraph: Learning outcomes have become ubiquitous within worldwide curriculum policy in recent years. This move comes with many potential benefits, as it shifts the focus from providers to users of education, and it introduces a common language, addressing issues of progression, transparency and equity (CEDEFOP, 2009). To a large extent, they continue a long tradition of framing curriculum as aims and objectives. One can trace the genesis of the current fashion for defining learning as outcomes in the objectives movement in the United States (c.f. Bobbitt, Tyler, Bloom etc.), with its roots in Taylorist scientific management, and which became extremely popular in the 1960s. There are also clear lines of descent from the development of competency-based vocational education and training in the UK from the 1980s onwards, through the worldwide extension of this model to national academic qualifications (for example the Scottish, New Zealand and South African qualifications frameworks) in the 1990s (for a fuller account of this, see: Kelly, 2004; Biesta & Priestley, 2013). These developments have introduced a plethora of different – and often confusing and ambiguous – terms and concepts into the arena. They manifest a desire to provide preset definitions of what an educated person might know or do as a result of being educated. For example, according to CEDEFOP (2009), ‘learning outcomes can best be defined as statements of what a learner knows, understands and is able to do after completion of learning’ (p9). This definition clearly illustrates a distinction between outcomes and their predecessors: the shift towards framing education in terms of learners and their development, rather than in terms of what is to be taught. This is not a new distinction, as discussed by Biesta and Priestley (2013). However, it is one that has been given a renewed force by recent developments such as the publication of competency frameworks by organisations such as the OECD and the European Union, as well as by the emergence in the past few years of new approaches to defining national curricula.

Learning outcomes; curriculum

Publication date online31/05/2016
PublisherNational Council for Curriculum and Assessment, Dublin

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Professor Mark Priestley
Professor Mark Priestley

Professor, Education

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