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
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
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
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.
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,
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
- 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
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
- 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,
- ‘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
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),
- 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
- 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.
Burns, R. & Squires, D. (1987). Curriculum Organization
in Outcome-Based Education. San Francisco: Far West Lab for Educational
Research & Development.
Spady, W. (1988). ‘Organizing for Results:
The Basis of Authentic Restructuring and Reform’. Educational
Leadership. Vol. 46, No. 2 pp. 4–8.
Spady, W. (1993). Outcome-based Education. Belconnen,
ACT: Australian Curriculum Studies Association.
Spady, W. (1994a). ‘Choosing Outcomes of Significance’.
Educational Leadership. Vol. 51, No. 6, pp. 18–22.
Spady, W. (1994b). Outcome-based Education: Critical
Issues and Answers. Arlington, VA: American Association of School
Spady, W. and Marshall, K. (1994). ‘Light, not Heat,
on OBE’. The American School Board Journal. Vol. 181, pp.
Spady, W. (1995). ‘We Need More ‘Educentric’
Standards’. Educational Leadership. Vol. 53, No. 1, pp.
Towers, J.M. (1996). ‘An Elementary School Principal’s
Experience with Implementing an Outcome-based Curriculum’. Catalyst
for Change. Vol. 25, pp. 19–23.
Willis, S. and Kissane, B. (1995). Systemic Approaches
to Articulating and Monitoring Expected Student Outcomes. Murdoch,
Western Australia: Murdoch University.
1 There could be two
types of outcomes: major ones such as the exit outcome of the course and
minor ones that are developed by the instructor for achieving the instructional
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