Learning outcomes (LOs) are the statements of the knowledge, understanding and competencies which our engineering programmes are designed to develop in our students. Most universities now demand that every module, programme or course has pre-defined learning outcomes, couched in phrases such as ‘at the end of this module the student will be able to …’. [They really should be intended learning outcomes, since we cannot demand that they all be met!] One of the practical challenges for a programme director is to ensure that the LOs delivered by all the modules in the programme cover (but do not repeat too many times) the learning outcomes specified for the whole programme. This is straightforward in principle during the original design of a programme, but difficult to maintain throughout the subsequent inevitable changes of staff, modules and ideas. It is particularly difficult to maintain in the face of experimental changes in the teaching or assessment practices of individual lecturers, but without experiment nothing would change at all.
UK-SPEC (the document against which UK engineering degrees are accredited) includes the following definitions of terms which might be used in specifying Learning Outcomes:
- Knowledge is information which can be recalled;
- Understanding is the capacity to use concepts creatively, for example in problem solving, in design, in explanations and in diagnosis (see also the discussion in a. above);
- Know-how is the ability to apply learned knowledge and skills to perform operations intuitively, efficiently and correctly;
- Skills are acquired and learned attributes which can be applied almost automatically;
- Awareness is general familiarity, albeit bounded by the needs of the specific discipline.
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