This article explains the nature and features of OBE. It further explains the differences among outcome-based, outcomes-based, and the outcomes-based teaching and learning (OBTL). If you are a teacher or a student in tertiary education, this article is for you.
To adequately address the needs of education in the 21st Century, schools must be OBE. But what is OBE? Is it outcome-based or outcomes-based? Is there a difference between the two? Since OBE is used in different ways, it becomes very confusing (Biggs & Tang, 2007).
The Nature and History of OBE
Many think that outcomes-based education and competency-based education are the same. But that is not the case because the competency-based education is only an example of OBE.
Outcomes are bigger than competencies, and when we say competencies, they are referred to the skills (narrow competencies) that the school would like to develop among the students, so competency-based education is commonly used in vocational and technical education.
To avoid confusion, let’s discuss the three types of OBE.
The Three Types of OBE
The first type is the Outcome-based Education (the singular form). It was proposed by William Spady in 1994 to have an individualized program for disadvantaged school students, which he called as the outcome-based education. He used “targets” for each student so that he/she can achieve some success, and these targets include values components (outcomes). As a result, several Australian State Education Departments adapted the Spady Model, but not all the values components (outcomes) were taken to respect other cultures and religions.
The second type is the plural form or the Outcomes-based Education. This term originated from the Accountability Movement in the USA (the Ewell and Managerial Models). Of this type, outcomes are at institutional level, and this is the type of OBE that exists in higher education. The academic institution must think and decide the kind of outcomes that they want their graduates to possess upon completing a particular course or degree program. The chosen outcomes must consist of the averaged student performances and other kinds of institutional outcomes that are required by the accrediting bodies. Now, how can the institutions be an OBE compliant? The outcomes statements must be institutional. It is proper that an institution must have institutional outcomes first. If the institutional outcomes are clear, then the program or course outcomes can be crafted based on the institutional outcomes. Likewise, the number of program and course outcomes should be limited only to 5 or 6. If there are too many, it is impossible to align the teaching/learning activities and assessment tasks to each program/course outcomes and to attain those outcomes.
The aims of the outcomes-based education are to meet the accreditation requirements or quality assurance and to address the needs of stakeholders like employers and policymakers. Thus, many universities around the globe are required to submit themselves for accreditation and quality assurance because it becomes mandatory to countries that are signatories in the Washington Accord and Bologna Accord.
The third type is the Outcomes-Based Teaching and Learning (OBTL from Dearing Report, 1997). Outcomes are defined specifically to enhance the teaching and assessment to avoid a mismatch between what we test and what we assess. There are three essential features of OBTL.
Three Essential Features of OBTL
First is the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs). To have ILOs, there must be an outcome statement. According to Biggs & Tang (2007), this is a statement of how we would recognize if or how well students have learned what is intended they should learn, not a prompt list of topics for teachers to “cover” in a curriculum which simply means that the students have learned what we want them to learn and do. However, there are occasions in which the students are so advanced and intelligent. They are capable of doing things that are not part of the ILOs. As teachers, what should we do? Are we going to punish the students by deducting some points from their grades? No, because good teachers always allow it. Thus, students are not only assessed (tested) on what they can do. They can also be assessed on the “unforeseen outcomes (unintended) but desirable ones.
Secondly, teaching should be done to increase the potential of most students to achieve those outcomes. How can we do this? Let the students engage in learning activities that directly link to achieving the intended outcome. They need to be active learners by not giving too many lectures in class.
Lastly, there is a need to assess how well the outcomes have been achieved. In this feature, traditional test in an invigilated exam room is not the best way in assessing outcome. So, avoid using paper and pencil tests like multiple choice, true or false, matching types and others. Some of the best ways to assess the outcomes are through authentic assessment, and performance-based assessment which can be done manually or with the use of technology (digital or online assessments) that are valid and reliable.
With the paradigm shift (from time-based to outcomes-based), the changing scene in higher education is being felt around the world, along with the factors affecting the teaching and learning process.
Three factors affect the teaching and learning process. First is the levels of engagement with the level of learning activity required to achieve the ILOs in particular content and context.
In the traditional classroom, students are only asked to memorize, take down notes, describe and explain (low level). But in the 21st Century Education, students must be taught on how to relate, apply and make their own theories (theorizing) which are high levels of engagement.
An example of this is the problem-based learning. Likewise, it is suggested that to achieve the ILOs, the learning activities must be ranged from describing, explaining, relating, applying, and theorizing to make the students become active learners (Biggs & Tang, 2007).
Next is the degree of learning-related activity that a teaching method is likely to stimulate. This concern is more challenging to the teachers because there’s no such thing as the best teaching method. It is better for the teachers to have a good repertoire of teaching methods and strategies and try which could be beneficial to the majority of the learners.
The third factor is the academic orientation of the students. Here, the students must be motivated well. If the academic orientation of the students is not right, then it is hard for them to achieve the high level of engagement.
I met many students who were forced to study by their parents a particular course or degree. They only came to class for attendance. They didn’t even care if they would get failing marks. The worse scenario is if they would tell you that it is ok to pass and not to get high marks.
What is the difference of getting a grade of D and A+? A student with a grade of D can also find a job or even become more successful in life. As teachers, it is our duty to motivate them as much as we can, but if the problem lies in their academic orientation, what can we do?
In a nutshell, OBE has different meanings. First, it means outcome-based education. It is for school level (vocational or technical). Second, it refers to the outcomes-based education which is for the tertiary level (bachelor or university). Finally, it means outcomes-based teaching and learning (OBLT) which addresses the teaching and learning at the classroom level and how to make an excellent classroom teaching. The classroom level may refer to all levels, primary, secondary, vocational or technical, undergraduate and graduate levels. Therefore, if you want to achieve teaching excellence, each teacher must do the OBLT.
OBE in general is viewed as what the students can do, and not what the students know.
- Biggs, John and Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university, 3rd Edition. USA: Mc Graw Hill Education.
- Davis, Margery (2003). Outcome-based Education. Retrieved from http://www.jfn.ac.lk/OBESCL/MOHE/OBE-Articles/Academic-documents-articles/6.OBE-Davis.pdf on December 19, 2015
- 21st Century Schools (2008). What is 21st Century Education? Retrieved from http://www.21stcenturyschools.com/What_is_21st_Century_Education.htm on December 5, 2015