January 08, 2010
E-Coaching Tip 73 (#1 Spring 2010) Developing Explicit and Personal Learning Goals
Have you ever asked yourself, “How do I get my students excited about the course content and what we will be doing?” In addition to being excited, enthusiastic and energized about the course yourself, one of the best ways to engage learners quickly in a course is to have them customize their learning goals. And to do it very early, as in a discussion forum the first week of the course.
Examples of Customizing Learning Goals
Here are three examples of generic course goals and how learners might customize them. Learners may want to personalize goals to fit current work or life interests or to fit anticipated future work and life challenges.
Example 1: Music – The Enjoyment of Music
Generic Learning Goal
Note: This is a good generic goal that takes the learner “beyond the course” into applying and using the course content over a lifetime. It includes an affective dimension as well, such as enjoying music.
Note: As learners review the syllabus and the activities for the course, they refine the generic goals to be very specific, personal and do-able. This also provides a foundation, basis for assessing the success of the student for the course.
Example 2: Comparative Leadership Studies
Generic Learning Goal
Note: This generic goal integrates a number of concepts, such as the fact that global leaders are sensitive to the needs of a particular time and a particular set of circumstances, including the various needs and interests of populations. Examples of how the roles of leaders are changing over time are needed to make this understanding rich and useable.
Note: As learners personalize their goals, they can identify projects and content that may have particular relevance to their current work environment. By sharing these goals, other learners see other examples of how the course content can be used in their own careers. More specifically, learners are able to focus their time more specifically to the particular country or regions that the learner is interested in developing expertise and competence in.
Example 3: Cell Biology
Generic Learning Goal
Note: This generic goal is more knowledge-focused as it depends on understanding basic concepts and functions in a scientific discipline. This generic goal does not extend to applying this knowledge in problem-solving, so it also might be described as a lower-level goal, but a necessary foundation for solving complex problems or understanding the complexity of scientific challenges.
Note: Refining and personalizing basic knowledge goals might be a little difficult for initial concept building as learners may not have sufficient knowledge to figure out how to apply or use this knowledge. These types of goals may represent a new knowledge area for students, an area for which they may have little prior knowledge or understanding. Part of the value of personalizing knowledge goals can be in articulating what or how they “may” want to use this in the future, and then reviewing it at the end of the course.
How do Customized Goals Relate to Course Goals
One question that you may have is how the customized goals relate to the generic goals. For example, you may wonder if these customized goals are in addition to the generic goals or if they supplant the generic goals.
Creating customized goals can be likened to creating a “to do” list for the course, encouraging learners to embrace, define and specify next steps for their own learning. Another benefit is that it is easier to make progress on and complete more of the tasks that we take the time to consciously record and write down.
Bonus Idea: Thinking about Learning Outcomes
If you have been teaching a long time and feel the desire for a fresh approach to developing learning goals, you may want to consider the six thinking dimensions discussed by Daniel E. Pink, political speechwriter turned author, in his 2005 book. Pink suggests that the 21st century is a new conceptual age that is encouraging, even requiring, a shift from left-brain thinking to right-brain thinking.
Integrating Right-Brain Thinking into Learning Goals
The challenge in revisiting our learning goals for our courses is to think about how the goals can encourage developing these kinds of right-brain skills and thinking. If we return to the examples above, such as the learning goal for the music course, we can be sure to include the fun and enjoyment of creating and sharing music. This would encourage the “play” dimension. For the comparative leadership course, the dimensions of “empathy” and “story narratives” might be highlighted; for the course in cell biology, the dimension of “symphony” and “design” might be integrated.
Lynd-Balta, E. (2006). Using literature and innovative assessments to ignite interest and cultivate critical thinking skills in an undergraduate neuroscience course. CBE Life Sciences Education. 5, 167–174. http://www.lifescied.org/cgi/reprint/5/2/167.
Note: These E-coaching tips were developed as part of an ecoaching service for online faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2010 in a book The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. See more at JosseyBass at http://www.josseybass.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470423536.html or at Amazon. Judith can be reached at 703 587 8892 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The full library of ecoaching tips is at http://www.designingforlearning.info/services/writing/ecoach/index.htm
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