All the Nordic countries have, in connection with the Bologna-process, an obligation to develop a national qualification framework by 2010. Learning outcomes are for all the countries an important part of the national qualification framework. The implementation of learning outcomes and a national qualification framework is at different stages in the five countries. The national qualification framework in Iceland is already implemented. In Denmark the first qualification framework was approved in 2003, and in 2008 a new second generation qualification framework is being developed. In Norway and Sweden the proposal of a national qualification framework has been to hearing with the institutions and stakeholders, and the final work is now in progress. In Finland the Ministry will most likely form a working group to create a national qualification framework in 2008–2009. In all Nordic countries higher education institutions have started the work with developing and formulating learning outcomes for their study programmes, subjects and modules. All higher education institutions in Iceland and Sweden, and the Finnish polytechnics have introduced learning outcomes. In Denmark all institutions have been working with learning outcomes, but not all have followed the terminology of the national qualification framework. In Norway, the institutions are formulating descriptions of the study programme objectives that are quite similar to descriptions of learning outcomes, and some of the institutions have taken the initiative to describe more outcome related descriptions of their own study programmes. The majority of the participating institutions found learning outcomes to be very useful. Among the primary strengths is the aspect that the learning outcomes provide better information on courses and programmes. Also, the encouragement to develop teaching methods and an improvement of the connection between content, examination and assessment was seen as useful. The discussions between teachers and students on learning outcomes have also reportedly created better understanding of the subject, content and attitudes. Only a few institutions have used learning outcomes to probe working-life expectations and future developments. None of the institutions use learning outcomes as a part of their quality assurance system yet, but, there is reason to expect their more ambitious application as a tool to assess and develop teaching and institutional performance in the future. However, the Nordic quality assurance agencies and the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture have limited experiences of evaluating learning outcomes. Denmark and Norway have since 2003 carried out evaluations resembling learning outcomes. These experiences of evaluating learning outcomes are part of an accreditation-process. For quality assurance agencies, the focus on learning outcomes is at an aggregated level, such as study programmes or institutions, and not at the individual student level. There are inherent challenges with the agencies evaluation of learning outcomes in quality audits and programmes, subjects or modules. In evaluations, these are, for example, connected with the assessment criteria, ways of measuring learning outcomes, and different interpretations of the contexts in the different countries. One challenge is to develop indicators that measure the achievement of learning outcomes compared with the intended learning outcomes, and not easily measurable like efficiency, etc., that provides limited information about the learning outcomes. It seems that learning outcomes can be integrated relatively easy into quality audits if higher education institutions have implemented learning outcomes, in their study programmes and they are a part of the institution’s quality assurance system. The institutions themselves don’t really know yet how they are going to evaluate whether the students are fulfilling the learning outcomes and how they make sure that the learning outcomes are in accordance with the descriptions of the national qualification framework within the programmes. Currently, higher education institutions, quality assurance agencies and research institutes worldwide are working on the topics of describing and formulating, measuring and evaluating learning outcomes. In the future, we will find a range of examples of assessment criteria and measurement indicators and different approaches on evaluating learning outcomes. Both audit and evaluation of study can promote enhancement of the work on learning outcomes.
ENQA Occasional papers
European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education
Nordic Quality Assurance Network for Higher Education