The Role of Learning Outcomes

Disciplinary Outcomes in Relationship to 21st Century Skills

To explore the tensions and opportunities between disciplinary outcomes and 21st Century skill development requires a closer look at the role that learning outcomes play in relation to the development of 21st Century skills. Of importance are four aspects.

The Importance of Alignment

First, is the level of learning that the outcomes statement intends to reach as it tacitly implies an alignment between the level of learning that the outcome statement declares and the assessment that measures the achievement of that outcome. Without an alignment between the two, there is no way of gauging whether the outcome has been reached.

Some Outcomes Address 21st Century Skills 

Second, it is important to consider to which extent the disciplinary goals already include 21st Century skills either directly stated or implied in the outcomes statement. Outcomes statements, while clearly focused on articulating their unique disciplinary goals, frequently foster additional cognitive, conative, and affective skills. Recognizing where the curriculum inherently fosters a particular 21st Century skill presents an educational opportunity to design an authentic learning task that deepens the disciplinary learning while also fostering that particular 21st Century skill.

Be Aware of Lower Level Outcomes

Third, it is important to recognize when outcomes statements hover on the lower level of the cognitive scale or when outcomes are purely disciplinary and void of fostering any 21st Century Skills. This is where the creative design of an authentic learning activity or assessment can elevate lower-level outcomes to higher levels of learning by asking learners to use and apply lower level knowledge in application, analysis, or evaluation which results in higher-level learning while additionally fostering 21st Century Skills.

Recognize that Outcomes are a Destination not the Journey

Fourth, and most importantly, it is to recognize that learning outcomes are merely statements about WHAT learners are intended to achieve; they are the end goals in sight. It is the task design that determines HOW the learners will achieve these goals wherein lies the opportunity to design meaningful learning opportunities that achieve the disciplinary goal but that additionally foster the important dispositions and skills learners require for the future.