My paper describes the changes in the focus of my PhD research; from a vague intention to investigate the learning benefits of organising student learning around learning outcomes to a more critical approach investigating the influence of learning outcomes on a learning culture.
The research is a form of praxis related enquiry, and concerns a Swedish university level teacher training course for prospective English language teachers, for which I am the course co-ordinator.
From July 2007 all higher education degrees in Sweden, as well as in the rest of Europe, have to be expressed through so-called learning outcomes. The introduction of learning outcomes into higher education are a key part of the 1999 Bologna declaration, that emphasises the need to express the knowledge, understanding, competences and other attributes contained within courses and their components. The course concerned was organised around student learning outcomes from the beginning of 2008.
The paper outlines my own learning and understanding of the research process and learning culture; from a technical rational approach of trying to “prove” that improvements in student learning had occurred, to a second stage of trying to open up the research process to other stakeholders and then to an understanding of why this “democratisation “ process had only a limited success. The final research stage involves a more critical understanding of the
introduction of student learning outcomes when put into the context of the complexities of the local (and global) learning culture. James and Biesta describe learning cultures as the social practices through which people learn, and the combination of the theory of learning cultures and the cultural theory of learning necessitates a different approach towards the improvement of teaching and learning, one which focuses on changing the culture rather than on only one element of it. This involves interpreting the interplay between teaching, teachers, learning, learners, learning situations and wider historical economic social and political influences.
While I have only just begun to analyse my data, initial reflections suggest that the introduction of student learning outcomes has only had a limited influence on the local learning culture. Whilst there has been a positive influence on synergy (increasing cooperation and openness between teachers, and also between teachers and learners ) this has had only a limited influence on practice. Other aspects of the learning culture have not been greatly improved. As far as learning opportunities are concerned ( what is allowed, disallowed, encouraged or discouraged in the name of learning) there still exists a culture where examinations tasks tend to encourage the transmission of factual knowledge . Students have very few opportunities to express a critical voice, there has been only a very limited move towards increasing student levels of empowerment; with little or no flexibility for students to decide on the method and content of their studies.
Australian Association for Research in Education, AARE 2010 International Education Research Conference - Melbourne, 2010