High-Impact Continuing Education: A Design for Long-Term Results

Article excerpt

Is your program a short-term smorgasbord or a program designed for long-term impact? In this article you will learn how to apply a program design method for long-term results. First you'll develop Learning Outcomes, then you'll use those outcomes to design a program for high impact step by step - the curriculum, teaching & learning methods, and assessment methods. The design used in this article has been proven effective in work-related continuing education programs internationally.

Is your Continuing Education or Training program a smorgasbord of activities and programs, workshops and events - similar in scope and content year after year? Or is it a strategic program designed for long-term impact?

To make a long-term impact it is important to have an excellent program design centered around the learning outcomes desired for the participants. The curriculum, teaching and learning methods, and the methods of assessing learning are designed to ensure that the learning outcomes actually happen. And finally, it's important to evaluate the program to see if it is achieving the intended long-term impact.

Designing Courses with Learning Outcomes

The most important first step in curriculum design is to consider carefully what the end result should be. What should participants know and be able to do upon completion of the course or training session? These are our desired "learning outcomes" which are at the heart of our program design for longterm impact. We decide on the desired learning outcomes before even considering the other elements of the program: curriculum content, teaching & learning strategies, and assessment/evaluation methods.

The Constructive Alignment approach was developed by Professor John Biggs in Australia (Biggs, 2002). The curriculum is designed with the alignment of content, teaching methods and assessment methods, with the desired learning outcomes at the center. By designing continuing education programs using these principles, they are much more likely to result in long-term impact.

Learning Outcomes are developed through information gathered in consultation with employers and professionals to determine what a participant needs to know and be able to do in order to be successful in the job or task. In addition, perhaps there are "SCANS" competencies (transferable skills) that are important as learning outcomes: team work, problem-solving, professionalism, interpersonal skills, customer service skills, skills in learning how to learn, writing skills, numeracy skills, general computer skills, etc.

It is important to define Learning Outcomes clearly, using the appropriate level from Bloom's Taxonomy. Clear definitions are essential for both learners and trainers. They are particularly important when more than one trainer is teaching the course or subject area (for consistency) and when one course is the pre-requisite for another.

Curriculum Design: The Content

When designing the curriculum for a course, it is important to address these three questions:

* What are the essential things a person must know in order to achieve the desired learning outcome?

* Is the content realistic in the time-frame available?

* Does everything need to be "covered" during class sessions?

The content is normally determined in partnership with the business or a professional organization which has good knowledge of the things that a person working in this field needs to know on the job. The methods for determining the content include DACUM and other job analysis methods for determining the content of a training program.

Some principles of curriculum design are important to consider. First, one-shot workshops are not effective for long-term results which transfer to application on the job. Second, programs offered over time, perhaps in small regular chunks, have longer lasting results. Third, a workbased cohort group reinforces learning transfer to the workplace. …