OBE Principles and Process

OBE Principles

There are different definitions for outcome-based education. The most widely used one is the four principles suggested by Spady (1994).

An OBE curriculum means starting with a clear picture of what is important for students to be able to do, then organizing the curriculum, instruction and assessment to make sure this learning ultimately happens. The four basic principles are (Spady, 1994):

  • Clarity of focus

    This means that everything teachers do must be clearly focused on what they want students to know, understand and be able to do. In other words, teachers should focus on helping students to develop the knowledge, skills and personalities that will enable them to achieve the intended outcomes that have been clearly articulated.

  • Designing down

    It means that the curriculum design must start with a clear definition of the intended outcomes that students are to achieve by the end of the program. Once this has been done, all instructional decisions are then made to ensure achieve this desired end result.

  • High expectations

    It means that teachers should establish high, challenging standards of performance in order to encourage students to engage deeply in what they are learning. Helping students to achieve high standards is linked very closely with the idea that successful learning promotes more successful learning.

  • Expanded opportunities

    Teachers must strive to provide expanded opportunities for all students. This principle is based on the idea that not all learners can learn the same thing in the same way and in the same time. However, most students can achieve high standards if they are given appropriate opportunities.

OBE Process

'Constructive alignment' is the process that we usually follow when we build up an OBE syllabus. It is a term coined by Professor John Biggs in 1999, which refers to the process to create a learning environment that supports the learning activities appropriate to achieving the desired learning outcomes. The word 'constructive' refers to what the learner does to construct meaning through relevant learning activities. The 'alignment' aspect refers to what the teacher does. The key to the alignment is that the components in the teaching system, especially the teaching methods used and the assessment tasks are aligned to the learning activities assumed in the intended outcomes.

Defining Curriculum Objective and Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO)

A learning outcome is what a student CAN DO as a result of a learning experience. It describes a specific task that he/she is able to perform at a given level of competence under a certain situation. The three broad types of learning outcomes are:

  • Disciplinary knowledge and skills
  • Generic skills
  • Attitudes and values

Guidelines for Producing Effective ILO Statements

Outcomes are about performance, and this implies:

  • There must be a performer – the student, not the teacher
  • There must be something performable (thus demonstrable or assessable) to perform
  • The focus is on the performance, not the activity or task to be performed

You could start with this stem:

On successful completion of the programme, a (name of program) graduate will be able to [action verb] + [activity].

  • Example 1: A graduate of this program will be able to effectively evaluate research designs, methods, and conclusions.
  • Example 2: Graduates of this program will be able to assess their own strengths, weaknesses, and omissions and be able to adjust future performance in light of their self-assessments.
  • Example 3: Graduates of this program will be able to effectively communicate both formally and informally through speaking, writing, and listening.


  • Stay big picture, don't jump into details
  • Consider what will be accomplished in the academic curriculum and in the co-curriculum

Alignment your Program Level Outcomes with HKUST’s Graduate Attirbutes – ABC LIVE

At HKUST, program outcomes need to be aligned with HKUST’s seven graduate attributes called ABC LIVE:

Academic Excellence

  • An in-depth grasp of at least one area of specialist or professional study, based on a forward-looking and inquiry-driven curriculum.

Broad-based education

  • Intellectual breadth, flexibility, and curiosity, including an understanding of the role of rational, balanced inquiry and discussion, and a grasp of basic values across the core disciplines of science, social science, engineering and the humanities.

Competencies and capacity building

  • High-end, transferable competence, including analytical, critical, quantitative and communications skills.

Leadership and teamwork

  • A capacity for leadership and teamwork, including the ability to motivate others, to be responsible and reliable, and to give and take direction and constructive criticism.

International outlook

  • An international outlook, and an appreciation of cultural diversity.

Vision and an orientation to the future

  • Adaptability and flexibility, a passion for learning, and the ability to develop clear, forward-looking goals, and self-direction and self-discipline

Ethical standards and compassion

  • Respect for others and high standards of personal integrity
  • Compassion, and a readiness to contribute to the community

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Designing Assessment Tasks

Outcome-based assessment (OBA) asks us to first identify what it is we expect students to be able to do once they have completed a course or program. It then asks us to provide evidence that they are able to do so. In other words, how will each learning outcome be assessed? What evidence of student learning is most relevant for each learning outcome and what standard or criteria will be used to evaluate that evidence? Assessment is therefore a key part of outcome-based education and used to determine whether or not a qualification has been achieved.

Steps for Assessment Design

Types of Assessment Tools and Methods
  • Formative assessment

    The collection of information about student learning during the progression of a course or program in order to improve students learning. Example: reading the first lab reports of a class to assess whether some or all students in the group need a lesson on how to make them succinct and informative.

  • Summative assessment

    The gathering of information at the conclusion of a course, program, or undergraduate career to improve learning or to meet accountability demands. When used for improvement, impacts the next cohort of students taking the course or program. Examples: examining student final exams in a course to see if certain specific areas of the curriculum were understood less well than others; analyzing senior projects for the ability to integrate across disciplines.

  • Criterion-referenced assessment

    A score that compares a student's performance to specific standards. The student is assessed in reference to some student outcome that can be expected as a result of an education experience (i.e., a degree of mastery of identified criteria. Criteria are qualities that can provide evidence of achievement of goals or outcomes, such as comprehension of concepts introduced or reinforced, a kind of inquiry behavior encouraged, or a technique practiced for its potential contribution to the skill of the artist/student or the meaning/communication of the art work. It makes sense to assess in terms of what a teacher believes was taught.

  • Alternative assessments

    A catch all term for assessments that depart from the traditional multiple choice, norm-referenced tests such as coding live art criticism discussions , portfolio reviews, rating performances or art products on criteria established by teachers and students, journals, authentic task assessment and direct observation of student performance.

  • Authentic assessments

    Assessment that fits meaningful, real-life learning experiences. It includes recording evidence of the learning process, applications in products and performances, perception of visual and audio relationships, integrations of new knowledge, reflecting profitably on one's own progress, and interpreting meaning in consideration of contextual facts.

  • Performance assessments

    An observation of the process of creating an answer or product that demonstrates a student's knowledge and/or skills. Directly observable, student- generated evidence of learning

Developing Marking Schemes

Once an assessment tool has been settled on, specific decisions may have to be made about the criteria by which student work will be assessed, depending on the learning outcome being assessed and the tool for assessment. Choosing criteria is where rubrics come in.

A rubric is a set of criteria for assessing student work or performance. Rubrics are particularly suited to learning outcomes that are complex or not easily quantifiable, for which there are no clear "right" or "wrong" answers, or which are not evaluated with standardized tests or surveys. Assessment of writing, oral communication, critical thinking, or information literacy often requires rubrics.

Rubrics have two dimensions: they identify the various characteristics of the outcome, and they specify various levels of achievement in each characteristic. Thus, a well-designed rubric consists of:

  1. clear definitions of each characteristic to be assessed for a given learning outcome, and
  2. clear descriptions of the different levels of achievement for each characteristic.

Because rubrics establish criteria, they can help make assessment more transparent, consistent, and objective. Faculty members and evaluators can use rubrics to communicate to students and each other what they see as excellent work, while students gain an understanding of what is expected and how their performance will be assessed.

Rubrics are also useful when there is more than one evaluator; rubrics can serve as standardized scoring guides that assist different evaluators to determine the quality of student work in a consistent manner.

Giving Feedback

Feedback tells students how they are doing towards achieving intended learning outcomes. This information can help them to improve their learning and so help them to enhance their performance in assessment. There is also considerable research evidence that the most important part of the assessment process, with regard to supporting learning, is feedback.

Each unit in a programme should normally include not only summative assessment but also formative assessment for which suitable feedback is provided in time for students to learn from it before major summative assessment. Coursework often serves a formative purpose through feedback while also contributing to summative assessment through the marks awarded; in such cases, feedback should be returned in time to inform the next piece of coursework.

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Selecting Teaching and Learning Activities (TLAs)

Selecting teaching and learning activities aims to help students to attain the intended learning outcomes and engage them in these learning activities through the teaching process.

A student-centered approach is the emphasis in OBE as its success is largely dependent on the extent to which students take responsibility for their own learning and whether or not co-operative learning is used; this is because one of the long-term outcomes of OBE is usually related to generic skills and attitudes such as teamwork and co-operation. Therefore, programs and courses should also provide experiences that students are going to encounter in the real world. These activities can be teacher-managed, peer-managed or self-managed.

Biggs (1999) suggested the following points of guidance for planning teaching strategies:

  • Sound knowledge is based on interconnections – connecting new learning with old. Encourage students to create conceptual structures which integrate their new and old learning.
  • Develop meta-cognitive skills by being explicit about learning and maximising students’ awareness of their own knowledge construction through structured reflection
  • Plan learning activities that actively involve students. Activity heightens arousal and makes performance more efficient
  • Incorporate explicitly stated study skills into learning, and if necessary, provide support for developing skills, for example in teamwork
  • Consider how information technology can support learning and teaching.

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Reviewing your Program Level Outcomes

  • Number of outcomes

    Keep the number manageable; 10-20 outcomes are probably the acceptable range. Address intermediate outcomes at a year or course level

  • Check for overlap

    Easily differentiable from each other. This is particularly important if you are going to map your curriculum

  • Check for clarity

    Communicate clearly to students about what they need to achieve in the programme (i.e. it would give them a clear direction for their study)

  • Check for representativeness

    Informs reader of attributes found in a graduate from the programme

  • Check for alignment

    Alignment of outcomes at different levels: School, Program, Course. Alignment between ILOs, assessments and teaching and learning activities. Alignment with the University’s graduate attributes (ABC LIVE) to produce all-round students with academic and professional competence.

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Writing Intended Learning Outcomes

Intended learning outcomes need to be written at both program and course levels. Both of them need two essential elements:

  • A statement of what content are the student is expected to be able to do at the end of learning experience;
  • The levels of understanding or performance in those content areas.

Program Learning outcomes

The accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) defines Program Learning Outcomes as "statements that describe what students are expected to know and be able to do by the time of graduation." To get started, the school must develop a list of learning outcomes derived from, or consonant with, the School’s mission. The mission and objectives set out the intentions of the School, and the learning goals say how the degree programs demonstrate the mission. That is, the learning outcomes describe the desired educational accomplishments of the degree programs.

Course Learning outcomes

Course Learning Outcomes describe the complex performances a student should be capable of as a result of learning experiences within a course. These are determined by the course instructor, or, in the case of a course with several sections, by a team of instructors who teach the same course.

Choosing appropriate action verb

In the process of writing learning outcomes, the curriculum team would use associated action verbs for different levels of learning. The use of action verbs facilitates alignment of program and course learning outcomes and course learning outcomes with assessments. When writing program learning outcomes, anticipate how student learning will be assessed in relation to each expectation. Vague verbs such as know or understand are not easily measured and need to be substituted with performative verbs such as identify, define, describe or demonstrate. Some of these verbs are listed in the table for consideration.

Levels of Learning

Action Verbs

Level 6: Creating

Create: generating, planning, producing, composing

Level 5: Evaluating

Evaluate: checking, critiquing, assessing, concluding

Level 4: Analysing

Analyze: differentiating, organizing, attributing, comparing, outlining

Level 3: Applying

Apply: executing, implementing, classifying, calculating, constructing

Level 2: Understanding

Understand: interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, explaining

Level 1: Remembering

Remember: recognizing, recalling, describing, listing

In the early years, lower level cognitive outcomes, i.e. "Remembering", "Understanding" are given stronger emphasis. The level moves upwards as the years move on. Higher level outcomes like "Evaluating" and "Creating" would have more emphasis in later years. It is a curriculum team’s responsibility to ensure this developmental progression over the program and to make sure the four types of intended leaning outcomes are covered appropriately.

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Choosing an appropriate tool and method

Rules of thumb:

  1. design assessment methods that are aligned with the overall aim of the program
  2. ensure that have accounted for any requirements set by professional bodies
  3. see that your assessment tasks are aligned with the stated learning outcomes
  4. use assessment methods that best measure achievement of the stated learning outcomes
  5. be fair in how much you ask of your students and how much value you assign to each task
  6. A variety of assessment methods is employed so that the limitations of particular methods are minimised and take account of the diversity of students
  7. There is provision for student choice in assessment tasks and weighting at certain times

A Variety of Tools and Methods is needed because:

  • In order to achieve constructive alignment and validly assess all of the outcomes
  • Traditional assessment only assess a fairly narrow range of skills and with the current expectations to develop students a lifelong learners with a range of transferable and disciplinary skills, a narrow range of assessments is unlikely be able to assess validly on a wide range of outcomes
  • A variety of assessment offers all students disadvantaged under one the opportunity to possibly excel in the others
  • Borden range of assessment methods means more choice and variety for students. These are the two factors that can increase interest and motivation
  • To develop students' competencies
  • To take a holistic approach on assessing students' performance

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Example of an OBA Marking Scheme

Here is an example of a constructively aligned assessment scheme:


Grading Criteria

Grading will be based on you attaining the following criteria:

Grades will depend on how well you can demonstrate that you have met all objectives:

Demonstrate appreciation and understanding of the delicate balance in the environment.

A: Awarded if you have clearly met all the objectives, displaying deep knowledge of the content, creative thinking, applying the concepts effectively to new situations

Demonstrate understanding of sustainability and related issues in the environment.

B: Awarded when all objectives have been met well and effectively

Have knowledge of relevant UK and EU environmental legislations.

C: Awarded when the objectives have been addressed satisfactorily, or where evidence is strong for some objectives, but weaker in others.

Relate specific pollution control technologies to industries.

F: Less than C, or work not submitted

Appreciate the range of engineering related environmental problems.


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