Monday, August 25, 2008

Outcomes based education

I thought I'd have a mathematical dig at OBE for a bit of fun.

Let's define a traditional learning environment in terms of mathematics:

T=information taught;
L=student ability to learn;
K=student knowledge & skills;

Let us say that:
T * L = K;
T * L = 1; if a student learns everything taught.
T * L = 0; if a student learns nothing.

Examining Teaching and learning further:
Teaching Factors:
A=Teacher ability to teach content

Learning Factors:
D=Developmental level
P=Prior Knowledge
E=Environmental factors

Substitute these to our equation:
(A*R) * (D*B*P*E*M*C)=K

In an outcomes based world T & K are written differently. What is taught is driven by the students and the knowledge required to be taught:
A = K ÷ (D*B*P*E*M*C*R)

So optimal learning ocurs at:
A = 1 ÷ (D*B*P*E*M*C*R)

Here is where the interesting things start to occur. One only has to wonder what happens if any one of DBPEMCR becomes zero. In the old equation K become zero, you could still teach but no learning occurred. In the new equation A becomes undefined and the ability to teach becomes impossible.

Similarly in traditional teaching one equation would fit the whole class and if the factors were affecting one student on any given day, the remainder of the class would still continue learning. Under the new model, one student with a factor at zero can cause complete disruption as you attempt to redress the factor impeding your teaching ability (and making your teaching equation undefined).

Furthermore, whereas delivering content from syllabus is under teacher control, understanding DBPEMCR and using it to drive the delivery of the teaching content makes the job of a teacher considerably more difficult in a heterogenous classroom especially as a new teacher with limited experience/ability/control over these factors. The smaller the value of DBPEMCR, the more difficult it is to establish a teaching moment.

Ok so it's all a bit fallacious but it does make one think.. perhaps sitting at home sick isn't the best time to philosophise and I'll go back to bed.


  1. The shift toward outcome-based education is analogous to the total quality movement in business and manufacturing. It reflects a belief that the best way for individuals and organizations to get where they're going is first to determine where they are and where they want to be--then plan backwards to determine they best way to get from here to there.

  2. Yes, but unlike in manufacturing with OBE there is no fixed starting or end point nor can a classroom be treated as a black box due to the myriad of factors described in the blog. Each student is developing at different rates and there is little or no control over the quality of students entering the system or in the making of exacting conclusions of their exit state due to the vaguaries of levelling in assessment.

    Don't misunderstand me, I think there is a lot of merit in QA/TQM/Standards (coming from my business background) as there has been great outcomes in OBE classes but like in business we have to be careful that the effort in setting up a standard is returned in increased quality of the output. In the case of OBE on the whole it is debateable that process was not adequately researched prior to implementation resulting in students/teachers having to work very hard to make OBE a success thereafter.


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