L. Dee Fink’s instructional model provides a framework for cultivating significant learning. By following the principles it outlines, you can strengthen and focus your courses to make a greater impact in the lives of your students.
A successfully aligned course focuses on student needs and situational factors through integrated learning outcomes, learning assessments, and learning activities.
A successful course design contains several important features. Begin designing your course by creating significant learning outcomes that focus on the students—their situations and needs. Next, design engaging learning activities that give students opportunities to interact with you, with each other, and with the content in meaningful ways that help them achieve the learning outcomes. After that, prepare informative learning assessments that will gauge how well students attain the learning outcomes. Finally, be sure all the components are integrated with one another (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Adapted from Fink, L.D. (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences, Jossey-Bass.
Significant Learning Outcomes
Effective learning outcomes are clearly defined with precise action verbs that specify what students will be able to DO as a result of their learning experience. The learning-outcome verbs describe the performance of the students in their learning activities and their assessments. To be most effective, learning outcomes must be specific and measurable. Many use the format "Students will be able to [action verb] + [something]." See Developing Learning Outcomes for examples.
Engaging Learning Activities
Engaging students in meaningful learning activities will lead them to master the concepts and skills defined in the course learning outcomes. Such learning activities prepare students for subsequent assessments. The learning activities should be interactive and provide students with opportunities to deepen their understanding. Explicitly teach students how each learning activity relates to a specific learning outcome to help them understand the rationale for the activity.
Informative Learning Assessments
Assessments are not likely to provide meaningful feedback about student learning if course activities have not prepared students for the type of assessment given. The best assessments mirror the learning activities students have participated in throughout the course. Effective assessments provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate and further develop their knowledge and skills. In addition, informative assessments provide instructors with valuable feedback to improve and align each component of the course (see Aligning Instruction with Assessments).
Course improvement occurs when you continually look for ways to cultivate teaching and learning. This process makes course design cyclical in nature. Continually evaluate your course learning outcomes, learning activities, and assessments so you can make changes that will improve them. Review your teaching and learning activities to determine their impact. As needed, take steps to make modifications and evaluate the results.
Once you have established solid learning outcomes, activities, and assessments for your course, you’re ready to create your syllabus.