Measuring Perceptions: Indirect Assessment of Course Learning Outcomes

Written by Samer Jaffar, GM - MENA & Singapore, Explorance.

University students

Reading time: Less than 5 minutes

Synopsis: Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) have long since been assessed by traditional means such as in-person exams and evaluations. With the advent of large-scale remote learning, is there an opportunity to better illuminate student attitudes towards CLOs and their effectiveness?

All institutions are committed to the enhancement of the quality of learning and teaching, with the end of term course/instructor evaluation being one key instrument to measure student satisfaction.

With the sudden transition to remote/hybrid learning over the past year, it has become more important to consider the student voice in other aspects of the learning experience.

Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) aim to encapsulate what students should have learned from a particular course or module, and assessing that success has primarily been examined through direct assessment, including exams, tests, and papers.

However, students’ perceptions of whether CLOs have been attained is often missing. This can then have a bearing on the achievement reflected in Students Learning Outcomes (SLO), or the knowledge that students are able to demonstrate at the end of a learning experience.

Enabling Student Feedback on CLOs

There are opportunities to better incorporate student feedback regarding CLOs either as part of the end of term evaluation, or as a separate feedback event during the semester.

There are several advantages of introducing this indirect assessment of learning outcomes based on student perceptions. These include:

  • It improves awareness around the intended objectives of the course. Ideally, this would be emphasized at the beginning of the course to ensure that the student is cognizant of what each course is set to deliver. However, institutions may consider presenting the indirect assessment during the mid-term evaluation to provide the instructor with the opportunity to gauge and adjust the tools for developing stronger understanding of the learning outcomes.
  • Bridging the gap between students’ perception, and the direct assessment conducted by the faculty. Institutions may ask a faculty to provide their own indirect assessment of the learning outcomes at the end of the course survey for similar comparison – adding further insight.
  • Identifying the strength of each individual course in delivering the intended learning outcomes at a higher achievement level, while providing faculty with the opportunity to introduce changes to the courses and assess the effectiveness of these changes in subsequent terms.

Why Has This Process Gained Prominence Now?

The sudden shift towards online learning has challenged universities to employ effective ways to The traditional direct assessments can be insufficient indicators in outlining a student’s progress.

In fact, student awareness of the learning outcomes has probably never been as vital as during this period, because the element personal interaction is missing from their educational experience.

This has been a disruptive period for education in general and especially for Higher Education. It is imperative not only to measure students understanding of learning outcomes, but to also emphasize how such a process will help drive student achievement and attainment of the program objectives – which may also be referred to as Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs).

Can CLOs Be Evaluated as Part of Formative Assessment?

When we speak of student awareness regarding the learning outcome, it is important to not only introduce this at the beginning and the end of the term, but also to complement the summative assessment with real-time measurements of these outcomes through pulse questions, online discussions and knowledge assessment.

Such engagement encourages awareness at a deeper level, helping to ensure that there is a clear path to achieving the intended objectives of the course.

Measuring CLOs through students perception may also be separated from the regular end of term evaluations, to ensure that universities are highlighting to students the significance of achieving learning outcomes. It demonstrates to students that their experience and voice (and not only their grades) is another success factor in measuring the achievement of the course objective.

Crucially, the formative assessment process provides a faculty with the opportunity to actively engage in adjusting the course delivery during the term – aligning students perception gap with the intended course objectives.

Facilitating Better Feedback

If we consider that on average every course has five CLOs, and then that an institution that offers 2,000 individual courses per term, there would be a need for 10,000 different questions to be answered by students. 

Blue, Explorance’s best-in-class Experience Management (XM) platform, offers a unique Question Bank feature that fully automates the process of mapping each CLO to the corresponding course and triggering these CLOs in student surveys. The multi-rater feature in Blue means that both students and faculty can provide their own assessment of the CLOs, thereby facilitating the capability to measure the perception gap.

Reports can be generated for each course’s CLO achievement while mapping CLOs to SLOs and highlighting Student Outcomes at an individual course or aggregate level – such as department, program, or school.

This indicates how the right platform can be used to effectively record and map student attitudes to CLOs.


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