Higher Education Learning Outcomes Assessment

International Perspectives

by Hamish Coates (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 322 Pages


This book provides higher education teachers, leaders and policymakers with insights from research on assessing students’ learning outcomes. The book is founded in research, shaped by policy, and designed to be of enduring relevance to practice. Framed by a cycle of continuous quality improvement, it begins by discussing policy contexts and research concepts. Experts discuss institutional, disciplinary, national and international case studies. Perspectives are advanced for reviewing the relevance and feasibility of assessment initiatives. The book explores what stakeholders have done to convert work on learning outcomes into improvements in education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Abbreviations
  • Part I: Planning
  • Advancing student learning outcomes
  • Opening the box
  • Positioning ‘learning outcomes’
  • Why this work is urgent
  • Financial pressures
  • Broader strategic shifts
  • Changes to education fundamentals
  • Clarifying key ideas
  • Innovating for growth
  • References
  • Comparative analysis of learning outcomes assessment policy contexts
  • Introduction
  • Emergence of accountability
  • Policy shifts toward learning outcomes in United States and Australia
  • Japanese higher education policy toward learning outcomes
  • Two methods of learning outcomes assessment
  • Learning outcomes assessment in Japan
  • Concluding thoughts
  • References
  • Assessing student learning outcomes: Research trajectories
  • Introduction
  • Framing the pathway to learning outcomes measurement
  • Step 1: Specifying learning outcomes
  • Step 2: Assessment of individual achievement of the outcomes
  • Steps 3 and 4: Aggregation of individual results for performance measurement
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Part II: Implementation
  • Outcomes assessment in practice: Reflections on two Australian implementations
  • Introduction
  • The Australian context
  • AHELO in Australia
  • Background on the study
  • Development of assessment materials
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Institutional engagement
  • Student engagement
  • Implementation of the assessment
  • Reporting of results
  • AMAC
  • Background on the study
  • Development of assessment materials
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Institutional engagement
  • Student engagement
  • Implementation of the assessment
  • Reporting of results
  • Reflections for future practice
  • References
  • Decentralised learning outcomes assessments: Developments in Ontario, Canada
  • Introduction
  • Quality assurance and learning outcomes
  • Context and definitions
  • National and province-wide standards
  • Sector and discipline-specific learning outcomes
  • Professional accreditation standards and learning outcomes
  • Learning outcome assessment activities
  • Large-scale assessments initiatives
  • Institutional assessment activities
  • Engineering program assessment activities
  • Case study: Queen’s University
  • Summary and conclusions
  • References
  • Student learning outcomes assessment in China: Primitive foundations
  • Introduction
  • Review of quality assurance schemes in China
  • Contexts shaping student learning outcomes assessment in China
  • Exemplary student learning outcomes assessment programs in China
  • Overview
  • Institutional case: Learning outcomes assessment and internal quality schemes
  • Brief introduction of Beijing Normal University (BNU)
  • Enacting student learning outcomes in practice
  • Internal quality assurance scheme
  • Reflection
  • References
  • Developing learning outcomes initiatives in Egypt, Kuwait, and the UAE
  • Introduction
  • Histories, growth, privatisation and the need for quality assurance
  • The Egyptian context
  • The Kuwaiti context
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) context
  • Situating learning outcomes assessments in local histories
  • National research literature on learning outcomes assessments
  • Experiences with AHELO: Egypt, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi
  • The Kuwaiti experience
  • The Egyptian experience
  • The Abu Dhabi experience
  • Directions for future research
  • References
  • Learning outcomes in Finnish higher education from the perspective of comprehensive curriculum framework
  • Introduction
  • Comprehensive curriculum framework
  • Institutional case studies: learning outcomes quality assessment
  • JAMK University of Applied Sciences learning outcomes approach
  • Hanken School of Economics: ‘People led’ approach
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Insights from a German assessment of business and economics competence
  • Measuring competencies in business and economics
  • Aims of the WiwiKom Project
  • The WiwiKom project’s conceptual model
  • Preliminary results of the modelling and validation
  • Preliminary findings from the test validation
  • Implications and Outlook
  • References
  • Part III: Review
  • Faculty engagement in learning outcomes assessments
  • Introduction
  • The call for learning outcomes assessment
  • Engaging faculty in the scholarship of assessment
  • Academics as reflective practitioners
  • Legitimate concerns about learning outcomes assessment
  • Promoting effective formative assessment
  • Striking a balance
  • References
  • Modelling and assessing higher education learning outcomes in Germany
  • The German situation and structural features
  • Modelling and Measuring Competencies in Higher Education: The KoKoHs research program
  • First milestones, tasks and assessment structure
  • KoKoHs theoretical framework and methodology
  • KoKoHs assessment framework
  • Taking account of control
  • Development of theoretical models
  • Developing appropriate measurement models and instruments
  • Lessons learned from KoKoHs
  • Results and experience
  • Funding initiative and projects
  • Coordination office
  • Future perspectives
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Impact of assessment initiatives on quality assurance
  • Introduction
  • Links between external quality assurance and learning outcomes: A conceptualization
  • Tales from the field: How external quality assurance addresses learning outcomes
  • What has been the historical role of learning outcomes in external quality assurance?
  • European developments in external quality assurance
  • United Kingdom developments in external quality assurance
  • Swedish developments in external quality assurance
  • United States developments in external quality assurance
  • Australian developments in external quality assurance
  • Discussion and reflections
  • Towards integration of external quality assurance and learning outcomes?
  • The unresolved measurement challenge
  • How will learning outcome approaches impact the improvement or accountability balance?
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part IV: Improvement
  • Transparent reporting of learning outcomes
  • Introduction
  • Needs of stakeholders
  • Current approaches
  • Quality assurance as a transparency tool
  • League tables and rankings as transparency tools
  • Paving the way for better transparency reporting
  • Factoring learning outcomes data into transparent reporting
  • Which lens?
  • Technical considerations
  • Conceptual considerations
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Seven strategic areas for advancing the assessment of learning in higher education
  • Introduction
  • Reflecting on the broad state of assessment in higher education
  • Dilemmas and challenges
  • The multiple strategic purposes of assessment in higher education
  • The tendency to focus on the trees and not the forest
  • A hesitancy to prescribe detailed assessment criteria
  • The limits to our capacity to articulate and share meaning around standards
  • The tensions between work-related expectations and wider scholarly aims
  • Assessment for the 21st century: Seven areas for advancing learning
  • Imagining new portrayals of desired learning and ‘graduateness’
  • Intensifying assessment design around program level learning outcomes
  • Crafting breakthroughs in the assessment of higher-order intellectual skills
  • Shifting more responsibility to the learner
  • Integrating rigorous assessment of learning in the workplace
  • Finding more sophisticated ways to report learning outcomes
  • Validating assessment practices through cross-institutional calibration
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Propelling the field: Insights, trends and prospects
  • Uncertainly poised for reform
  • Core themes from the analyses
  • Institutional and disciplinary engagement is required
  • National quality contexts count
  • International collaboration is imperative
  • Evaluating the maturity of the field
  • The Assessment Transparency Model (ATM)
  • Summary observations
  • Guiding advance of the field
  • Effective leadership
  • Positioned for relevance
  • Techniques must be sound
  • Outcomes must create impact and value
  • A spur to innovation and diversity
  • Leading forward movement
  • References
  • About the editor
  • About the contributors

| 7 →

Hamish Coates


I recently attended a graduate finance lecture where the teacher announced he would provide a formula sheet in the exam. A sigh rose from the 200 silent students. Does this dynamic, I wondered, build capabilities required to prevent the next recession?

Despite transformation of many other academic frontiers much assessment is still done as it was a century ago. Widely practiced but researched occasionally, improvement in this field seems difficult. Yet, more than ever, I see assessment as needing substantial reform, and that making progress on this front is instrumental for advancing education overall.

In the early days of my interest a handful of experiences alerted me to immense prospects for improving assessment. Good learning, it seemed, easily went undetected or could be misconstrued by expensive and unreliable assessment, even with serious stakes. I became intrigued by the psychologies, politics and practices in play.

I became fascinated to learn about the science of assessment, and was absorbed by the gap—often chasm—between theories and methods, not to mention much practice. Inspecting universities with this lens, it was easy to find practice which was not just poorly designed, but not designed at all.

Subsequent investigation of higher education policy revealed that challenges were far more pervasive than I imagined. Assessment science had shaky ties with practice, yet links with institutional strategy, system policy and regulation were equally, if not more, tenuous.

Striving for ways to make a difference, it has been a real pleasure to prepare this book in collaboration with so many imaginative international experts. In the chapters that follow, these experts review recent progress, chart contemporary advances, and project the shape of things to come. Hearteningly, and despite myriad enigmas and much diversity, the contributions affirm that substantial progress is feasible, and is gaining in traction and pace.

The book brings together the wisdom of many people—people who have written chapters, responded to tests and questionnaires, offered advice, and supported an enormous amount of research and development. Too many pages would be required to list all participants, and of course it’s impossible to list the many thousands of people who have provided insights on an anonymous basis. I am very grateful to everyone who has contributed to this book.

In particular, I am deeply grateful to Marek Kwiek for his editorship of the Higher Education Research and Policy (HERP) series, and for his encouragement and contribution to this volume. ← 7 | 8 →

I warmly acknowledge the collegiality and contribution of the chapter authors: Chi Baik, Zhong Binglin, Victor Borden, Sebastian Brückner, Daniel Edwards, Manuel Förster, Brian Frank, Leo Goedegebuure, Hesham W. Gomma, Roland Happ, Richard James, Christiane Kuhn, Mary Catharine Lennon, Marian Mahat, Lin Martin, Jacob Pearce, Shawn Peters, Bjørn Stensaker, Rachel Sweetman, Miriam Toepper, Jani Ursin, Sylvie Wald, Huanhuan Xia, Reiko Yamada and Olga Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia.

Several people played a broader role in this book’s formation. In addition to their authorship both Marian Mahat and Mary Catharine Lennon provided enormously helpful contributions. Many thanks to Molly Mckew for proofing the draft manuscripts, and to Lachlan Doughney for his assistance as well. Finally, I thank the many hundreds of colleagues and friends who have guided and supported the last few decades of my work in this field. Not least, I thank Sara, Imogen and Annabel for helping me learn.

| 9 →

List of abbreviations

| 13 →

Part I: Planning

| 15 →


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (October)
Lernergebnisse Qualitätssicherung Erziehungspolitik Hochschulbildung
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 322 pp., 14 tables, 15 graphs

Biographical notes

Hamish Coates (Volume editor)

Hamish Coates contributes to higher education through research, leadership and development. He has worked across many countries, authored over 200 publications, and led a suite of influential projects. A specialist in assessment and evaluation, Hamish’s teaching focuses on improving the quality and productivity of learning, academic work and leadership. Hamish is a Professor of Higher Education at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE) at the University of Melbourne (Australia).


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