How to Adapt or Build Your Co-Curricular Learning Outcome Framework

Previously, I outlined the myriad of benefits offered by implementing a learning outcomes framework to guide co-curricular learning across an institution.

(Spoiler alert: you can market programs to students more transparently, appease accreditors, prepare students to articulate their skills to employers, and more!)

Now, let’s talk about picking a framework. You have two main routes available: design your own from scratch or utilize an industry standard.

First, let’s review four of the most popular, well-established frameworks.

4 Popular Frameworks

CAS Learning & Development Outcomes

CAS is the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. The organization describes itself as the “pre-eminent force for promoting standards in student affairs, student services, and student development programs.” In other words, learning outcomes are their whole jam.

CAS outcomes revolve around six broad categories, called domains:

  • Knowledge acquisition, construction, integration and application
  • Cognitive complexity
  • Intrapersonal development
  • Interpersonal competence
  • Humanitarianism and civic engagement
  • Practical competence

You can learn more about the history of these domains and the skills defined within them here.

The CAS standards are perhaps the most popular learning outcome framework out there. Yet, the broad language of each domain may go over students’ heads. So, you could consider being inspired by the framework but rewriting the domains to advertise your programs in a more appealing way.

The LEAP Vision for Learning

An acronym for Liberal Education and America’s Promise, LEAP was an initiative of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).

Although the AAC&U is no longer focused on LEAP, its learning outcomes are still utilized by many institutions. Liberal arts programs especially value its ideals, as they touch upon both co-curricular and academic learning.

LEAP outcomes are categorized within the following categories:

  • Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world
  • Intellectual and particular skills
  • Personal and social responsibility
  • Integrative and applied learning

The full vision for LEAP can be found here, with the skills of each category summarized on page 13.

DQP

The Degree Qualifications Profile was developed by an organization with a clear, focused name: The National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).

DQP’s five proficiencies are:

  • Specialized knowledge
  • Broad and integrative knowledge
  • Intellectual skills
  • Applied and collaborative learning
  • Civic and global learning

The focus here is on what college graduates should know and be able to do upon earning their degrees. Although NILOA is primarily concerned with the quality of American education as overseen by academic affairs, its principles can also inform aspects of non-classroom programming. Student affairs departments may opt to use this framework in order to demonstrably align classroom education with co-curricular initiatives.

You can learn more about DQP — including its history, value, and definition of “proficiency” — here.

NACE Career Readiness Competencies

The National Association of Colleges and Employers developed this framework in order to define career readiness.

As the association puts it:

“For new college graduates, career readiness is key to ensuring successful entrance into the workforce. Career readiness is the foundation upon which a successful career is launched. Career readiness is, quite simply, the new career currency.”

The eight career readiness competencies NACE outlines are:

  • Career and self development
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Equity and inclusion
  • Leadership
  • Professionalism
  • Teamwork
  • Technology

Learn the definition and example behaviors of each competency here.

Of the four frameworks I’ve outlined, NACE’s language most closely mirrors the desired skill sets and lingo favored by employers. Thus, this language may be the most ideal for marketing your co-curricular opportunities. NACE lingo can help you be transparent about each program’s real-world value.

How to Decide

Picking from these established frameworks may be made both easier and harder by the same fact: Each framework is largely promoting the same skills.

Or, as CAS even admits when comparing its domains to others:

“Similarities in themes and values are easily recognized across these resources, with word choice being the primary difference.”

So, your decision may come down to what approach appeals to your department — and perhaps the broader institution — the most.

To summarize:

  • CAS seeks to “promote standards to enhance opportunities for student learning and development from higher education programs and services.”
  • LEAP takes a liberal arts approach, integrating both academic and co-curricular experiences.
  • DQP is most concerned with the quality of a high education degree, emphasizing the skills and knowledge sets all graduates should develop.
  • NACE seeks to define career readiness, pushing institutions and their students to develop skills valued by today’s employers.

Knowing the differences in approaches should help you pick a framework that aligns best with your mission and vision. If, for example, you work at an institution grounded in the liberal arts, then LEAP might be an ideal fit. Or, a student affairs department that seeks to boost the quality of students’ degrees (beyond classroom learning) might go with DQP, and an institution that’s foremost concerned with students’ future employment may pick NACE.

One major advantage of opting for a well-established framework like these four involves documentation and research. Your students likely won’t care about the history of the organizations behind each framework, nor the research methodology guiding each outcome, but institutional leadership probably will.

You can use each organization’s literature and language to convince your institution’s president of every outcome’s value. You can cite research to open up conversations with academic deans about co-curricular collaborations. And you find success stories from other institutions to convince your department leaders of a framework’s value.

Creating a Framework

DIYing your learning outcome framework isn’t about frivolously reinventing the wheel. There are several advantages to it.

First, it’ll challenge you and your coworkers to think deeply about what you truly want students to learn. It’ll require you to have honest conversations with students, explore essential skills valued by employers, dive deep into your institution’s mission, and assess your current approach to student development. Utilizing LEAP or another acronymed standard may accidentally sway you toward emphasizing skills and learning pathways that aren’t true institutional priorities nor solutions to your students’ unique needs.

Additionally, designing your own outcomes might help you increase student retention! You can work with assessment professionals, review data put out by your office of institutional research, or conduct surveys on your own to find out what skill sets help students persist year after year at your institution. You can find gaps in student learning, which may be dragging your retention rate down, then work those gaps into learning outcomes — guiding students to acquire skills that’ll allow them to stay enrolled and graduate on time.

Complete Guide to Co-Curricular Learning Ebook

And finally, DIYing a framework can be fun. You can get creative with the language, working your institution’s name, mascot, colors, or slogan into each outcome. Domains such as “Think like a shark”, “Lead like a Lion,” or “Be a golden citizen” can promote school spirit and sound less intimidating to students.

For an example of a personalized, made-just-for-them-by-them framework, check out the University of South Carolina Upstate.

And for more advice on designing a framework — complete with pretty pictures — download our free guide to co-curricular learning. It defines experiential learning, shares tips for motivating students, and presents visual frameworks that may inspire your own graphic designs.

Jodi Tandet

About the author: Jodi Tandet loves writing and editing posts about the complexities of campus life as Presence's Lead Storyeller. She's also passionate about making homemade ice cream, forging peace agreements between her calico cat and lab/dachshund mix, and reading novels about estranged family members with shocking secrets. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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