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Nov 2003 Vol. 7   No. 3  

........   OUTCOME-BASED EDUCATION  ........
Outcome–based Education (OBE): A New Paradigm for Learning
Ms Chandrama Acharya
Former Research Assistant, CDTL

In recent years greater attention is being paid to evaluate the outcomes of education to account for the returns of investments made in education (particularly public education). These increasing calls for accountability were a major reason for the rapid spread of various forms of outcome-based education in countries such as USA, UK and Australia during 1980 and 1990s. Likewise in Singapore, the recent development in the educational reforms towards knowledge economy and higher order economic efficiency call for quality and accountability in education. This article will elaborate on some issues involving OBE and teaching strategies to be taken while adopting OBE.

What is OBE?

OBE is a method of curriculum design and teaching that focuses on what students can actually do after they are taught. OBE addresses the key questions as:

a) What do you want the students to learn?

b) Why do you want them to learn it?

c) How can you best help students learn it?

d) How will you know what they have learnt?

Thus, the OBE’s instructional planning process is a reverse of that associated with traditional educational planning. The desired outcome is selected first and the curriculum, instructional materials and assessments are created to support the intended outcome (Spady 1988; 1993). All curriculum and teaching decisions are made based on how best to facilitate the desired final outcome.

Towers (1996) listed four points to the OBE system that are necessary to make it work:

a) What the student is to learn must be clearly identified.

b) The student’s progress is based on demonstrated achievement.

c) Multiple instructional and assessment strategies need to be available to meet the needs of each student.

d) Adequate time and assistance need to be provided so that each student can reach the maximum potential.

Why OBE?

The arguments developed by the proponents of OBE are:

a) OBE is able to measure—‘what the students are capable of doing’—something which the traditional education system often fails to do. For example, assessment methods in a conventional education system often grade students based on their ability to choose a correct answer from a group of four or five possible answers. Such practices do not allow students to demonstrate what they have learnt. Ideally, students should have an understanding of the content, which is a cognitive skill that goes much deeper than finding the correct answer. OBE requires the students to understand the contents by “extending the meaning of competence far beyond that of narrow skills and the ability to execute structured tasks in a particular subject area and classroom” (Spady, 1995).

b) OBE goes beyond ‘structured tasks’ (e.g. memorisation) by demanding that students demonstrate his/her skills through more challenging tasks like writing project proposals and completing the projects, analysing case studies and giving case presentations etc. Such exercises require students to practise and demonstrate their ability to think, question, research, make decisions and give presentations. Thus, OBE involves students in a complete course of learning—from developing their skills in designing to completing a whole process (Spady, 1994a, 1995). OBE also identifies higher levels of thinking (e.g. creativity, ability to analyse and synthesise information, ability to plan and organise tasks). Such skills are emphasised especially when students are assigned to organise and work as a community or entrepreneurial service teams to propose solutions to problems and market their solutions.

The Four Basic Principles of OBE

a) Clarity of focus about outcomes1

  • Always have the significant, culminating exit outcomes as the focus.

  • Let the students know what they are aiming for.

b) Designing backwards

  • Design curriculum backward by using the major outcomes as the focus and linking all planning, teaching and assessment decisions directly to these outcomes.

c) Consistent, high expectations of success

  • Set the expectation that OBE is for ALL learners.

  • Expect students to succeed by providing them encouragement to engage deeply with the issues they are learning and to achieve the high challenging standard set (Spady, 1994b).

d) Expanded opportunity

  • Develop curriculum to give scope to every learner to learn in his/her own pace.

  • Cater for individual needs and differences, for example, expansion of available time and resources so that all students succeed in reaching the exit outcomes.

Using Outcomes to Guide Instructional Planning

Instructional planning under OBE system takes four major steps:

a) Deciding on the outcomes

It is very important to define the outcomes of a programme in specific and precise manner. Spady & Marshall (1994) wrote:

“Outcomes are clear, observable demonstrations of student learning that occur after a significant set of learning experiences... . Typically, these demonstrations, or performances, reflect three things: (1) what the student knows; (2) what the student can actually do with what he or she knows; and (3) the student’s confidence and motivation in carrying out the demonstration. A well-defined outcome will have clearly defined content or concepts and be demonstrated through a well-defined process beginning with a directive or request such as ‘explain,’ ‘organize,’ or ‘produce’.”

Thus most outcomes and standards should be described in terms of three dimensions:

  • CONTENT—simple to complex

  • CONTEXT—simple to complex

  • COMPETENCE—low to high

b) Demonstrating outcomes

Expected demonstrations will be defined by setting ‘benchmarks’ for each level of the programme. Each benchmark is a skill that must be demonstrated by the student. Unlike the outcomes, the list of benchmarks is different in every level of study. Benchmarks should address and define specifically the goals of the curriculum and determine ways to assess whether students have reached these goals at that level of study.

c) Deciding on contents and teaching strategies

One of the most common questions among teachers is ‘what experiences will I need to provide?’ At the beginning of any class the teachers will delineate expectations and outcomes to make the students feel like participants in classroom decisions. When this is done the students tend to be more supportive of activities and leaning processes taken in all aspects of the class.

There are two general approaches to implementing outcome-based models:

  • ‘Whole-class’ models which seek to bring all learners in a classroom up to high levels of learning before proceeding further, and

  • ‘Flexible’ models which use flexible grouping, continuous progress, technological approaches and instructional management.

The latter model requires the instructor to make a sincere attempt to meet each student at his/her level of competency and build upon the ‘strengths already there’ throughout the course. After the first few days of the course, students must have clearly understood the objectives of the programme. In addition, a classroom climate of mutual respect should have been built and the teacher has a great deal of information about each student. At this juncture, it would help if the instructor could conduct an assessment of students’ mastery in varied areas, including the content they had learnt and other skills that they had developed. The assessment could help the instructor determine what instructional levels to begin the course at.

It is significant to note that a specific textbook is not used for these classes. Since a regular textbook would bring a sense of confinement, it is preferable to use a varied range of reference books and authentic materials from the world around. Each year, units of study are developed according to the changing needs of the student population and integrated into the curricula. In this manner one can build upon the interests of the students and individualise their classroom experience (Burns & Squires, 1987). Integral to this programme is the completion of projects, reports, and group activities to evaluate a student’s thoughts and process of development. The projects are often open-ended, giving the students freedom to explore whatever their interests and abilities lead them to.

d) Assessments in OBE

The entire curriculum in OBE is driven by assessments that focus on well-defined learning outcomes and not primarily by factors such as what is taught, how long the student takes to achieve the outcomes or which path the student takes to achieve their target. The learning outcomes are set out on a gradation of increasing complexity that students are expected to master these outcomes sequentially. Willis & Kissane (1995) suggested two techniques for assessing students’ learning outcomes:

  • ‘Standard-referenced assessment’ (similar to criterion-referenced assessment but with a clearer description of expected performance), and

  • Student portfolios documenting their progress.

Given that assessments in OBE focus on the students’ learning outcomes (i.e. how much and how well the students have learnt), this could imply that students with different abilities will follow different paths to reach their goals and may finish at different times. This brings forth some questions on when and how often to carry out the assessments in a semester or how many attempts should a particular student be allowed to show her/his abilities.

In addition, as OBE requires ongoing feedback between the student and the lecturer, continuous assessments could help the lecturers determine the following:

  • How to achieve the learning outcomes?

  • What is the progress of particular students in the class?

  • When to assess the students on how much they have learnt?


OBE promises high level of learning for ALL students as it facilitates the achievement of the outcomes, characterised by its appropriateness to each learner’s development level and active and experienced-based learning. Moreover, knowing that this system is going to be used would also give students the freedom to study the content of the course in a way that helps them learn it. OBE must involve administrators, educators, parents, teachers and students for successful implementation.


Spady, W. (1988). ‘Organizing for Results: The Basis of Authentic Restructuring and Reform’. Educational Leadership. Vol. 46, No. 2 pp. 4–8.

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