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How Outcomes-Based Education Can Define Student Success

  • 3 Min Read

Learn how student success can be measured through outcomes-based education and tips for facilitating OBE assessments in online learning environments.


Although we’ve traditionally relied on grading tests and exams to measure the progress students are making, we’re coming to realize the picture is often bigger than that. Success is about more than how well students master course material. It can be just as important that they’re encouraged and enabled to develop durable skills—people, social and career competencies—that they can leverage in the classroom and throughout their lives.

But to evaluate these softer skills and knowledge, we may need alternate strategies. In this blog, we look at how student success can be measured through outcomes-based education (OBE) and offer tips for facilitating OBE assessments in online learning environments.

What Is Outcomes-Based Education?

OBE focuses on the skills, abilities, knowledge and values gained as a result of completing a given lesson, class or program. It rests on using outcome statements to outline what students are expected to do to meet these expectations. These statements are written out using a stem phrase—a starter statement at the beginning of each learning outcome—followed by a verb and an object to describe the desired thinking:

  • the verb refers to the actions associated with the intended cognitive process
  • the object explains the knowledge students are expected to acquire or construct

An example of a well-structured outcome statement is, “Students will be able to recognize the rhetorical modes in class readings.”

Measuring Success with Outcomes-Based Education

With OBE, educators can still use any objective grading system they choose such as letter grades or levels. The difference is that instead of measuring relative achievements, including passing or failing a class, students will be assessed against absolute objectives. For example, in an English class a student could receive a level three for knowledge, level four for critical thinking, level two for communication, and level four for personal responsibility.

This grading would be in direct response to the class learning outcomes such as:

  1. Knowledge learning outcome: Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of rhetorical theories.
  2. Critical thinking learning outcome: Students will be able to analyze a piece of literature within its specific historical, global, political, and cultural contexts.
  3. Communication learning outcome: Students will be able to situate their own ideas within the context of an existing critical discussion.
  4. Personal responsibility learning outcome: Students will be able to produce independent and original research using the essential tools of literary scholarship.

In essence, taking an OBE approach can help shift the educational focus to what a learning experience should help students do rather than simply achieving a high grade.

Conducting Assessments with Outcomes-Based Education

In an online environment, various assignments and projects can be given to students to align OBE evaluations with outcomes. Consider implementing the following assessments in your learning management system (LMS) to help students work toward specific learning outcomes:

  • Portfolios: Students create a collection of work that shows their learning progress over time. This assignment supports ongoing improvement in a given subject and showcases a student’s learning process.
  • Scaffolded assignments: Students submit parts of an assignment to produce a major assignment. This type of assignment can be created in an LMS by giving feedback in phases. It helps students focus on smaller learning goals that support the overarching learning outcome for the course.
  • Lecture summaries: Students demonstrate understanding of key concepts and ideas from the classroom through summarizing class readings, lectures and discussions. In an online environment, lecture summaries encourage students to take ownership of their learning.

These types of assessments are dependent on providing constant feedback to help students understand the progress they’re making toward achieving intended learning outcomes. Instead of simply responding to assignments and activities, an LMS can be used to directly mark up assignments, provide additional file attachments, and even share video feedback to help students work towards class learning outcomes.

Learn How to Remove Barriers to Student Success

Read the latest compilation from Inside Higher Ed on the importance of new learning models to improve student success. It includes stories and discussions about:

  • faculty resistance to fresh approaches in higher education
  • three easy ways to transform a lecture class and to enhance student-centered learning
  • the ongoing debate on what matters more, skills or degrees

Download the booklet

Written by:

Zeina Abouchacra

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Table of Contents

  1. What Is Outcomes-Based Education?
  2. Measuring Success with Outcomes-Based Education
  3. Conducting Assessments with Outcomes-Based Education
  4. Learn How to Remove Barriers to Student Success