(Spoiler alert: they have value and use well beyond assessment!)
Orientation for Learning
There is tremendous value in communicating the intentional structure of learning associated with your academic course, co-curricular event, student service, department, division, or institution. The visible alignment of content in your outcome map can serve as a blueprint to orient multiple audiences to intended impact on student learning.
For students: Your map can inform students of the potential impacts your services and activities can have on their learning and development. This can be generally informative, while also clarifying to students the nature and learning expectations of experiences.
And thanks to alignment with larger framework elements, students could also make connections to be intentional in reinforcing higher-level learning goals along their collegiate journeys and in thinking about skills they’ll need for their future careers.
For staff and faculty: Depicting the connections between program objectives, learning outcomes, and other interventions helps crystalize your general purpose after reviewing your map.
Connections to institutional elements and external criteria create opportunities to see complementary work across the institution, which you can leverage to garner collaboration.
Outcome maps can also serve as excellent onboarding materials so people will understand that they are not just leading an isolated workshop or event; they’ll understand how their efforts are part of a systematic, cohesive program with outcome and alignment dependencies toward a larger design. Folks can truly see the impact and relationship of their work on other operations and student learning initiatives.
For external audiences: Prospective students, families, and alumni can benefit from outcome maps by seeing the intentionality and structure behind the associated learning. Accreditors and evaluators can see the connections between content and alignment to requisite standards or criteria.
Outcome maps add a great deal of transparency to what is actually proposed and intended with offered interventions for learning — benefiting everyone.
Design Backwards with Outcomes in Mind
Whether you’re developing programs from scratch, evaluating, or redesigning activities, outcome mapping can be incredibly useful. Start with the intended learning outcomes and determine alignment to interventions. Remember: This outcome-intervention alignment can represent when to educate students along their journey, as well as where student learning is demonstrated.
Here are two examples of what this might involve:
Fraternity and Sorority Life: Staff could look to community-wide pillars or values to be instilled in participants and, using those as outcomes, consider distribution or alignment to committee work, education, and programming. There can then be intentionally coordinated and sequenced to your annual schedules of events and programming themes, as well as core tenets for evaluating chapters — all driven by student learning.
In this way, learning outcomes will be attributed to specific interventions and activities where learning is introduced or reinforced with students. Additionally, it will be clear where demonstration of student learning can be measured.
Residence Life: Staff can use outcome mapping to situate bulletin boards, educational programs, and social events — providing a well-rounded, safe, and educational living-learning environment for residents.
Taking a step back to start with the outcomes against a clean slate can help ensure fresh perspectives and approaches to residence life work, as opposed to merely relying upon past interventions. Alignment to department, division, or institutional values can also inform RA hiring, training, and evaluation. This latter element reinforces the developmental nature of such a leadership position, plus it shows the transferability of skills beyond a given experience.
Reference for Assessment & Reports
Although outcome maps are instrumental in supporting assessment practices, I was intentional in not mentioning this benefit first. It is important to recognize outcome mapping as valuable on its own and for many reasons beyond assessment. But, yes, they are great tools for assessment planning and reporting.
Assessment planning: Outcome maps are great references to identify content to assess, as well as help guide data collection. If you’re planning to measure a specific learning outcome, maps can show where all aligned interventions are opportunities for data collection. Maps can be great reference points when considering and strategizing outcome measurement each year, especially when rotating outcomes and not measuring all outcomes all the time.
Assessment reporting: When reporting, an outcome map can show the contributing nature of specific interventions and outcomes to other interventions, division or institutional outcomes, and/or external standards. When any results are higher or lower than expected, outcome maps make it easy to identify other data sources or opportunities wherein the same outcome may be demonstrated. Furthermore, outcome maps can make it easier to spot potential places where changes or action taken based on results might have a downstream impact. They can also help to inform if change is necessary with interventions contributing to the area or moment that was measured.
Mechanism for Quality Assurance
As I mentioned in a previous post, outcome maps depict connections and alignments visually. Reviewing outcome mapping for gaps or redundancies can help gauge the accuracy or integrity of what you created and how you are operating.
Understanding the connections between outcomes and interventions can also inform strategy for change or improvement by considering the student journey and typical engagement. Maps can make it easier to guide changes so as to minimize disruption and maximize learning impact for students. As demonstrated with the previous uses, outcome maps can be leveraged for quality assurance in relation to messaging and operation of an area in accordance with its outcomes, values, and operational hierarchy.
I hope this post has helped illustrate a few ways that outcome maps can be used. I think it’s valuable to share not only their uses, but also highlight the audiences (and collaborators!) for whom outcome maps are relevant. I also hope this post helps dispel any mischaracterizations of outcome maps as being an “assessment” thing or only being useful for assessment-related purposes. They are useful for assessment, but can be leveraged for so much more!