Grounded Outcomes: A Qualitative Approach to Learning Assessment in the Arts


Learning outcomes are a useful heuristic as an organizing principle for developing and aligning curriculum, lessons plans, and assignments, yet as such, it is reasonable to consider if we are in fact measuring what we believe we are measuring through outcomes-based assessment. Is it possible that what we are measuring is predominantly the effectiveness of the learning design and pedagogy rather than student learning itself? The demonstration of student learning we are able to tease out through outcomes-based assessment, in this view, would be better understood as a byproduct of a process for measuring educational effectiveness. To the extent that we are satisfied with this condition then there is no cause for concern. If we really want to know what students are learning, however, considering both the explicit and the implicit curricula within a given learning environment, the personal experiences of students and their backgrounds, and the contemporaneous social and political climate both inside and outside the institution, then we might do better with a different approach. Here I am not proposing self-reported learning achievement, but rather a process of discovery that allows student learning to be revealed rather than checked. This necessarily requires an inductive methodology for assessment. If we approach learning assessment as an epistemological inquiry rather than a performance measurement, learning outcomes would then no longer be targets, goals, or objectives; they would be open questions.


Brian Harlan
Vice Provost, Academic Affairs, California Institute of the Arts, California, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Assessment and Evaluation


Arts, Learning Assessment, Qualitative Methods

Digital Media


Grounded Outcomes (mp4)