This paper, published in 2017, by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP). It is the 2nd edition of a handbook focused on defining writing and applying learning outcomes.

In Australia, learning outcomes can be developed by providers based on particular qualifications and skill sets in Training Packages. They may be mapped to individual or clusters of Units of Competency, however, it is not a term you see a lot here as outcomes perhaps are seen as more ‘workplace based’ and less concerned with the ‘learning outcomes’ needed to achieve these in our ‘industry-led’ system.

Maybe we also need to think about competence and its relation to the learning process?

As this CEDEFOP handbook notes when talking about competence:

“Competence can be understood as actually achieved learning outcomes, validated through the ability of the learner autonomously to apply knowledge and skills in practice, in society and at work. Learning outcomes are validated by their relationship to competences.”

And so

“When countries [in Europe] use the term competence-based qualification, they normally stress the role of the learning (and working) context and how this influences the transformation of intended into actually achieved learning outcomes. The learning or working context has a strong influence on the range of learning outcomes that are considered important, the interaction between them, the way the learner learns, how the outcomes are assessed and most importantly, the value attached to qualifications in the field.”

This conception very much swings things back towards what learners need to know and be able to do as well as the extent to which they possess other capabilities and personal attributes relevant to defined competencies. In Europe, too, the definition of competence is very much broader, and less workplace and industry focused than ours, with reference to learning outcomes that also embrace “general knowledge and ethical, cultural, and social skills that go beyond the needs of the labour market.”

So, how is competence defined in Europe?

Another CEDEFOP site defines competence as:

“a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the context. Competence indicates the ability to apply learning outcomes adequately in a defined context (education, work, personal or professional development). Competence is not limited to cognitive elements (involving the use of theory, concepts or tacit knowledge); it also encompasses functional aspects (involving technical skills) as well as interpersonal attributes (e.g. social or organizational skills) and ethical values … Competences can be domain-specific, e.g. relating to knowledge, skills and attitudes within one specific subject or discipline, or general/transversal because they have relevance to all domains/subjects. In some contexts, the term ‘skills’ (in a broader sense) is sometimes used as an equivalent of ‘competences’.”

So, does this broader definition and more general use of a learning outcomes approach at RTO level within a competence-based system gives more potential richness to vocational learning when compared with our present approach here?

What does the handbook contain?

In its 142 pages it covers a lot of ground, including:

First, describing who are the users of learning outcomes. These users include students, teachers and trainers, assessors, providers and for the labour market and society.

Second, outlining the instruments and tools used to advise learning outcomes, including occupational standards, qualification frameworks and standards, curricula and assessment criteria. Interestingly, the guide covers notions of national curricula, which we had here in Australia until the mid 1990s. Is it time for a comeback for these here based on the new look for Training Packages presently under development?

Third, providing approaches to defining learning outcomes through notions of competence, and developing learning aims and objectives and writing learning outcomes.

And finally, thinking about transversal skills, that is those “learned and proven abilities which are commonly seen as necessary or valuable for effective action in virtually any kind of work, learning or life activity.” This would include, for example, writing learning outcomes aiming to promote ‘team-work’ or ‘problem-solving’.

Other sections cover ‘rules of thumb’ in defining and writing learning outcomes, and there is also a resources section following – including a literature review as well as a reference and further reading list.

This handbook may be worth a look if you are into, or contemplating, developing and using learning outcomes to support delivery at your provider.