New Year’s resolutions: goals we set for ourselves to improve our lives, a tradition that individuals say goes back to 153B.C. and the Roman god Janus, the god of beginning and transitions. As I begin the New Year and make my own new year’s resolution, I am reminded of all the resolutions of past years that I have made and did not keep compared to those that I achieved. What was the difference between those resolutions I achieved and those I needed to put back on the resolution list for a second, third, or even fourth year? After some reflection and my time working at Campus Labs I have figured it out. If only I had started working here sooner, I could have had a much higher success rate.
Here is a list of the most common New Year’s resolutions:
- Drink less alcohol
- Eat healthy food
- Get a better education
- Get a better job
- Get fit
- Lose weight
- Manage debt
- Manage stress
- Quit smoking
- Save money
- Volunteer to help others
- Reduce, reuse or recycle
- Take a trip
What do these all have in common? They aren’t in line with the three Ms for learning outcomes. With resolutions like these it’s no wonder that only 8-12% of individuals achieve their New Year’s resolutions. Yes, the advice given to creating well-written learning outcome statements can be applied to your New Year’s resolutions. Both your outcomes and your resolutions should be…
I could easily say that I was going to give up eating onions (a food that I despise eating) but what would be the point? The resolution, while easy to achieve, is meaningless for me. I already eat onions only when absolutely necessary or to be polite. This resolution will not make a difference in my life or make it better.
For learning outcomes you want to ensure that they support the departmental mission or goal. Similar to my onion resolution if you aren’t able to tie your learning outcome to the bigger picture it won’t be relevant. For example, while students attending your program may be able to build a cardboard canoe, it would be more meaningful to have learning outcomes of working cooperatively with others within a group and identifying appropriate and innovative solutions to problems presented. You could then tie these learning outcomes to critical thinking and collaboration dimensions within your departmental, divisional, or institutional mission.
The year I tried to give up soda was a year of epic failure…I don’t think I even lasted a week. My resolution was not realistic; I tried to give up something that I loved. I should have instead set a goal of only drinking soda when dining out at restaurants and movie theatres or limit consumption to only five sodas a week. I would have had a resolution that was more realistic and therefore more achievable.
For learning outcomes you want to think about what is needed to foster the achievement of the outcome and if the outcome is realistic. While you hope that attending a fun, festive diversity program (with food!) has a lasting impact on students, it may be unrealistic to say that students attending one such program will be able to effectively communicate with individuals from a different cultural group. Instead, it may be more realistic to say that students attending your program will be able to identify three components of effective communication. By making your learning outcome realistic you will better portray and assess programs happening on campus.
Lastly make sure resolutions have a clear way to determine if they have been achieved. Let’s say I picked the resolution, “learn something new.” Sure, I enjoy learning something new each day but as a resolution….how will I know if I have achieved it? We learn new things all the time: words, skills, new ways of completing tasks, or the useless trivia with which we are bombarded on a daily basis. For this year’s resolution, do I want to learn how to knit something other than a scarf, take up a new hobby, or learn to bake the perfect soufflé? It would be unclear if I left my goal as “learn something new”. By making sure it is measurable, I will know when I have achieved my resolution.
For learning outcomes it is very similar. Think about how you will know if the outcome is achieved and what assessment method you will use. Create a plan and ensure that your outcome isn’t so vague that looking back you have difficulty saying what you have achieved and when you have achieved it. By having a plan and choosing the appropriate method you will be able to ensure that your assessments are purposeful throughout the year.
As you look forward to the New Year, remember the three Ms for your learning outcome statementsand your New Year’s resolution.