Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Incorporating Learning Outcomes in Transfer Credit: The Way Forward for Campus Alberta?

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Incorporating Learning Outcomes in Transfer Credit: The Way Forward for Campus Alberta?

Article excerpt

The learning outcomes movement has been at the forefront of a lot of lively academic discussions and genuine restructuring within higher education systems around the globe. The underlying motives leading to both their creation and use varies somewhat by jurisdiction. For example, their development in Europe, through the Bologna Process for universities and Copenhagen Process for vocational colleges, were motivated by a desire for mobility in work and education for European citizens. On the other hand, in the United States developing learning outcomes resulted from a strong sense of public accountability precipitated by the Spellings Commission, which demanded institutions have clearly articulated outcomes coupled with evidence that students had attained them. Whatever the initial impetus was to employ them, describing learning outcomes (along with assessment of the outcomes) has become the vehicle by which many institutions and educational jurisdictions describe quality (Hazelkorn, 2015; Douglass, Thomson, & Zhao 2012).

Learning outcomes are usually employed in three areas: (1) quality assurance, (2) teaching and learning, and (3) transfer credit. The three are related, and it is important to have familiarity with all three in order to understand any individual one. This article touches briefly on the first two, since there is already a great deal published on them in the literature, and focuses on learning outcomes in the context of transfer credit. To set the stage, some background will also be presented by looking at global trends and examining what is being done in other jurisdictions. The Alberta postsecondary educational system is employed as a case study, and the discussion describes the current situation and challenges in Alberta, including an analysis of lessons learned and perceived missing pieces.

With over two decades experience as an academic and senior university administrator, coupled with one decade sitting on the Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfer, the author draws from his own experiences, those of his colleagues, and findings reported in the literature. The methodology will be one of critical analysis as described by Birnbaum and Bensimon (1983, pp. 59-63). The paper contends that the three areas employing learning outcomes are not only related but can also be mutually supportive and instructive. The areas of quality assurance and teaching and learning are much more developed than the area of transfer credit, and the knowledge of the former should therefore benefit the understanding, acceptance, and use of learning outcomes in the latter. The analysis here further asserts that transfer credit would greatly profit from taking advantage of learning outcomes and argues for and highlights initiatives in other educational jurisdictions where they are being used successfully. Finally, in the context of Alberta, academic culture, and resource limitations, the article culminates in a proposal for a way forward by suggesting a system that builds on existing components and naturally incorporates learning outcomes. International Context and Trends

A recent survey of national qualifications frameworks of 142 countries and territories (European Training Foundation, 2013) showed that many higher education systems around the globe are based on learning outcomes. The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) provides an excellent example of one of the more comprehensive frameworks (Australian Qualifications Framework Council, 2013): it presents a united federal front even though the responsibility for education and training is shared between the Australian Government and state and territory governments. In Canada, education, including advanced education, is not a federal responsibility and is legally under the control of individual provinces and territories. However through the Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC) representing all 13 provinces and territories, governments have been working closely together to share best practices, align policies, and represent Canada internationally. …

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