What is a learning outcome?

It is the knowledge, skills or attitudes that the student has to acquire by the end of the study process. The study process can have a curriculum, a subject or even a lone seminar. It is also important that the acquisition of the learning output can be checked in some way.

You can find your curriculum and the learning output of your subjects at the study information system aka SIS (ois2.ut.ee). If you have any questions, turn to your lecturer or program manager!

Why do we need learning outcomes?

A steady goal – knowing what knowledge and skills we will reach by the end of the course also helps us focus on tasks that at first might seem pointless. All of this is easier to do when we know what’s the reason for all this: what is the purpose of these activities and what we get out of them.
The benefits from the learning outputs aren’t one-sided though. In addition to helping the student, this kind of framework also helps the lecturer set clearer goals in planning the classes, conducting them and eventually in the selection of the grading type and criteria.

Learning mobility. When you return to your main university after a semester (or more) abroad, it is possible to assess how much of the courses you took there fit into your curriculum back here and to use the RPL (recognition of prior learning) to take those subjects into account.

Society will gain knowledge through the learning outputs, what is it that we can expect from the people who have acquired a degree in the given field and employers will also know what kind of additional value this could bring to their organization, thereby increasing the competitiveness of the graduate.

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Feedback is an important component of your studies. As a student you want to get feedback during your learning process about how close you are to achieving the study outcomes. Take the teaching staff’s feedback seriously! If they don’t give it to you, ask! If you don’t quite understand something, ask them for a specification – feedback is necessary for your development!

According to the Study Regulations (105.5) a student has the right to get feedback to their written papers.

At the end of each semester you have to give feedback to at least four subjects. There are specific questionnaires on subjects as a whole for this in the Study Information System (SIS). The input gained from there will be used to develop the subject. In addition to the questionnaire in SIS, the teaching staff might ask you to fill out a lecturer-specific survey in Moodle.

When giving feedback, follow the good practices of giving feedback – be polite and think about what the teaching staff could do differently with their subject or teaching, so that the learning experience would be better. Don’t forget to also praise them for the aspects that made studying pleasant. 

Your feedback is also an important input to your representatives for selecting and attesting the teaching staff.

Feedback in the university – to whom, how and why?

Feedback, or giving a description, assessment or recommendation about what you’ve gained or experienced, is a very big part of the systems for advancing quality. Feedback from the consumer of a product or a service gives valuable information for development, but also reassurance, that they’re on the right path.

In the case of feedback systems, it is always important to know what kind of information is sought after, why and from whom. From the perspective of the person giving the feedback, it is as important to know that the information they’ve given actually leads to some kind of specific result. In this context, there has been more and more talk about closing the feedback circle, which means that the person who gave the feedback will later hear what conclusions were made from their comments and what the further action plan is like. This motivates the person giving the feedback to take the time to meaningfully fill out a feedback survey that oftentimes seems boring or to have a conversation on the matter in the future as well.

In the context of the university’s studies we have to pay attention to two types of feedback: the one that is (usually) given by the teaching staff to the students during the study process and the one that the student gives about the teaching.

Let’s take a look at the first one first. The study process directs the student in a specific direction – towards achieving the learning outcomes. The learning environment designed by the teaching staff together with the materials, assignments and feedback about their improvement, allows the student to find out constantly or periodically, how far they are from achieving the learning outcomes. The feedback doesn’t always have to come from the teaching staff. They can, for example, work out guides, based on what the students can assess their development themselves or give meaningful and developing feedback to their co-students. The important thing is that people get feedback.

More important than form is the timing, so that the student will have time to do something with the feedback before the end of the learning process. The teaching staff also wants to make sure that the student will make conclusions from the feedback, correct their learning style based on it and will be one step closer to the learning outcome when they solve their next assignment.

The second type of feedback – the student’s feedback about the teaching – is often more standardised in tertiary education. In UT the students give feedback about the subjects in a specific survey in the study information system.

In the survey that was put in place on the spring semester of 2019, attention was paid to the different aspects of teaching, which are considered to be the indicators of good teaching by pertinent research. There’s probably a small hope there, that measurable aspects will start getting more attention in the learning process. Although in the case of this feedback it is clear, who is giving the assessment, what kind of information is being collected and for what purpose, it is still unclear, what happens to the gathered feedback afterwards: how is the analysis made, what are the conclusions, what activities are planned and will the composed action plans be fulfilled.

Yes, there’s been a guide worked out about analysing, that can be easily found on the university’s website. But since the constitution of the subject plays an important role in the analysis, it’s more of a set of questions that direct the analysing discussion. The university also offers seminars to the teaching staff, where each participant can learn to analyse the feedback of their subject. But what happens next? Is it possible for the student to ever find out, what was changed in the subject based on last year’s feedback? Does the programme director know? Is it even written down somewhere?

The circle needs to be closed with both types of feedback. The student can say in their assessment of the subject if the feedback they got from the teaching staff helped them understand where they have to develop their knowledge and skills further, but it won’t show if there was also time to make corrections before the final grade was formed. But when giving feedback about a subject, the student has no way of finding out if something and then, what is done with their opinion. It might be good information for the students of next year, but they weren’t the ones giving the feedback.

Writing down development plans that are based on the feedback of the subjects and then publishing it for the students might seem like a too time-consuming assignment for the teaching staff, especially if they could use that time for substantive changes instead, but it is important for the people giving the feedback.

Marge Vaikjärv

Project manager, UTSU