This summer in my June blog post, I discussed the concept that college completion and student learning are two sides of the same coin – we cannot foster one without fostering the other. College completion, be it a certificate, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or more is important today because more jobs requiring advanced education and average personal earnings increase with education attained. But, focusing on college completion isn’t enough. A certificate or diploma doesn’t document learning. It simply demonstrates that a student has successfully completed a set number of credit hours in a prescribed curriculum. My bachelor’s diploma says that I graduated with a dual major in psychology and sociology. One can assume that I learned something about psychology and sociology, but what did I actually learn? Did I acquire any knowledge outside of these two topics? Since a diploma doesn’t certify learning, we don’t know what a graduate actually learns. Even a transcript doesn’t acknowledge what was specifically learned. It simply lists all courses taken and the assigned grade for each. As such, we need to concentrate on completion and student learning and be able to document what a college graduate knows, can do, and values.
The next logical question is, “what should college graduates know, be able to do, and value?” Where should this conversation begin? The first step is to identify broad areas of learning. These areas are attitudes, skills, knowledge, and habits of mind (which are also known as dispositions). Attitudes may include appreciation for diversity, love of learning, or respect for community. Skills may include the ability to solve a quadratic equation, build a model suspension bridge, or administer an allergy vaccination. Knowledge may include listing in chronological order the battles of the Revolutionary War, describing the types of grasses naturally occurring in the southern United States, or comparing the beliefs of Calvinism and Catholicism. Habits of mind may include persisting, thinking about thinking (metacognition), and applying past knowledge to new learning. These four broad areas of learning are the first step in identifying what college graduates should know or be able to do.
Within each of these broad areas, domains of learning should be identified. One can begin from scratch, and there are processes that can be implemented to identify of these domains. Or, one could turn to existing frameworks such as Learning Reconsidered, CAS Learning Domains and Dimensions, or the AAC&U Essential Learning Outcomes.
Learning Reconsidered (Keeling, 2004), identifies seven learning domains:
- Cognitive complexity
- Knowledge acquisition
- Civic engagement
- Interpersonal and intrapersonal competence
- Practical competence
- Persistence and achievement
The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) (2015) has also developed Learning Domains and Dimensions (http://bit.ly/1BMuITB) that include:
- Knowledge acquisition, construction, integration, and application
- Cognitive complexity
- Intrapersonal development
- Interpersonal development
- Humanitarianism and civic engagement
- Practical competence
(NOTE: The 9th edition of the Blue Book of standards was released last month. Get your copy at http://www.cas.edu/store_home.asp)
Yet, another leaning goal framework has been developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) (n.d.). Their Essential Learning Outcomes (https://www.aacu.org/leap/essential-learning-outcomes) includes four domain areas:
- Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world
- Intellectual and practical skills
- Personal and social responsibility
- Integrative and applied learning
In addition to these frameworks, the Lumina Foundation (2015) introduced the Degree Qualifications Profile (http://degreeprofile.org). The DQP, as it’s called, identifies clearly defined learning outcomes for each degree level (associate, bachelor, master). The domains for these outcomes include:
- Specialized knowledge
- Broad and integrative knowledge
- Intellectual skills
- Applied and collaborative learning
- Civic and global learning
A quick glance at these frameworks is all that is needed to see the overlap of learning domains across them. This commonality would suggest a level of agreement regarding the knowledge and skills a U.S. college graduate should have.
Once the domains have been established, it is helpful to define the dimensions that comprise each domain. Dimensions are component parts of domains. For example, the “interpersonal competence” domain in the CAS Learning Domains and Dimensions includes meaningful relationships, interdependence, collaboration, and effective leadership.
After the domains and dimensions have been decided upon, it is useful to consider levels of learning. Taking CAS Learning Domains and Dimensions again, “effective leadership” can have multiple levels ranging in complexity from leading a committee in a small student organization to being president of a large, multifaceted organization. Learning taxonomies such as those made attributed to Benjamin Bloom (1984) provide a structure for development such levels. Bloom’s revised cognitive taxonomy includes six levels ranging from the basic to the most complex: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create (Anderson et al., 2000). There are also taxonomies for psychomotor and affective learning. It is not necessarily important to be able to remember each level in each domain. Rather, it’s more critical to recognize that there are multiple levels to learning and then apply this concept to the development of levels within dimensions of learning domains.
Here is the hierarchy of learning with broad areas of learning (attitudes, skills, knowledge, dispositions), then more specific categories
--Domains of learning
--Dimensions of learning
--Levels of learning
--Outcomes of learning
Creating learning domains, dimensions, and levels are vital tools for college student educators. They can be used to create learning outcomes, to identify strategies for fostering those outcomes, and provide direction in assessing those outcomes. These domains, dimensions, and levels also provide the groundwork college student educators can use do demonstrate their impact on learning and tell the story of their work.
ACPA has resources to assist with this work. These include:
- Professional Development
- Residential Curriculum Institute (October 18-21) in Indianapolis
- Sessions at ACPA16 in Montréal
- Connections and Networking
- Commission for Assessment and Evaluation
- Accreditation and the Student Affairs Educator
- Assessment in Practice
How are you going to tell the story of your contribution to student learning and development?
Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., … Wittrock, M. C. (2000). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, abridged edition (1 edition). New York: Pearson.
Association of American Colleges adn Universities. (n.d.). Essential learning outcomes. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/leap/essential-learning-outcomes
Bloom, B. (1984). Taxonomy of educational objectives book 1: Cognitive domain (2nd ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. (2015). CAS learning domains and dimensions. In CAS professional standards for higher education (9th ed.). Washington, D.C.: Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education.
Keeling, R. (Ed.). (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. ACPA - College Student Educators International and NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
Lumina Foundation. (2015). Degree qualifications profile. Retrieved from http://degreeprofile.org