Competencies, objectives, and outcomes can be written to describe the learning expected of students in individual courses or for a program as a whole. However, these terms are often used interchangeably to describe desired learning and teaching practices, when in reality they mean different things. In this blog we define each term and look at the differences and similarities.
A general statement that describes the use of desired knowledge, skills, behaviors, and abilities. Competencies often define specific applied skills and knowledge that enables people to successfully perform specific functions in a work or educational setting. Some examples include:
- Functional competencies: Skills that are required to use on a daily or regular basis, such as cognitive, methodological, technological, and linguistic abilities
- Interpersonal competencies: Oral, written, and visual communication skills, as well as the ability to work effectively with diverse teams
- Critical thinking competencies: The ability to reason effectively, use systems thinking, and make judgments and decisions toward solving complex problems
A key differentiator between learning competencies, objectives, and outcomes is that learning objectives are the specific abilities necessary to accomplish the learning competency.
A statement that describes what a faculty member will cover in a course and what a course will have provided students. They are generally broader than student learning outcomes. For example, “By the end of the course, students will use change theory to develop family-centered care within the context of nursing practice.” Statements like this help determine what the student learned and what the teacher taught.
Overall, learning objectives determine what the course will have provided to the student. Both learning outcomes and learning objectives are used to gauge the effectiveness of a course.
A specific statement that outlines the overall purpose or goal from participation in an educational activity. These statements often start by using a stem phrase—a starter statement at the beginning of each learning outcome—such as “students will be able to.” This is then followed by an action verb that denotes the level of learning expected, such as understand, analyze, or evaluate. The final part is to write is the application of that verb in context and describe the desired performance level, such as “write a report” or “provide three peers with feedback.” An example of a well-structured outcome statement is: “Students will be able to locate, apply, and cite effective secondary sources in their essays.”
These statements written at a class level help students have a clear picture of where the course is taking them and what is expected of them in order to be successful in the course. These statements also help educators guide the design of courses through the selection of content, teaching strategies, and technologies so that course components are aligned to specific outcomes.
Writing Learning: Objectives, Competencies, and Outcomes
When building a college or university course, identifying learning competencies, objectives, and outcomes is an important step in making learning student centered and output oriented. The particular process used in drafting these course-specific statements may depend on the established learning objectives, competencies, or outcomes written at a program level that can be used to frame these statements. Another way this can be done is by systematically looking back from the ultimate desired end. Regardless of the writing process, it’s important that competencies, objectives, and outcomes are clear, observable, and measurable, allowing both students and faculty to understand the learning process.
Learn How to Use Online Learning to Support Competency-Based Education
Online learning can help support a competency-based education (CBE) approach, which enables students to advance through their education at their own pace based on their ability to master a skill or competency.
Attend our web-based seminar to learn strategies and best practices for using online learning to support a CBE approach at any college or university. Two leaders from Texas A&M University-Commerce will outline how they are using this model to meet the goals of the state’s “60x30TX” initiative and some best practices for any institution exploring a CBE approach.