HKBU Guide to Design PILOs

Hong Kong Baptist University

Centre for Holistic Teaching and Learning

A  guide to developing succinct and suitable Programme Intended Learning Outcomes (PILOs) for a current programme offering

Whilst in an ideal outcomes-based teaching and learning (OBTL) environment the usual developer of any programme offering  will succinctly identify what are the intended learning outcomes for a given  programme that is being developed, this is not often the case in the real world  where pre-OBTL programmes are already on offer. Thus, more often than not,  developers need to grapple with the task of retro-developing PILOs for an  existing programme. This may or may not be a daunting task, depending on the programme information available to the PILO developer and the familiarity of  the developer with the programme at hand. Nonetheless, even for a developer new  to the programme it is hoped that the following pointers will be useful  guidance in the process of developing succinct and suitable PILOs for an  existing programme.

Programme aims and description

Most programmes will have a section (at least a paragraph) on the aims and description of the programme on offer. Programme without such a section seldom get funded or supported as this section often explains the justification for the programme. This is a rich picking ground on clues to what are the possible intended learning outcomes for graduates of the programme. Often these outcomes are already spelt out in the description of the programme. Other times, especially when a programme is to address an occupational or employment need, the PILO developer can also look into the desired collective professional knowledge, skills and attitudes for the designated profession to extract possible clues to suitable PILOs for the programme.

Programme objectives

Even more than the section on programme aims and description, the section on programme objectives can often be further refined into succinct and suitable PILOs for a given programme. Objectives are usually written from the teachers’ perspectives, outcomes are for the students, so a first draft of the outcomes can usually be designed by rephrases the objectives from the point of the students to answer the question, “what will they be able to do after studying the programme?”. A note of caution here is that that sometimes programme objectives have a narrower scope than the total desired learning outcomes for a given programme. Nonetheless, where they exist, programme objectives are good starting points for the development of PILOs for that programme.

Courses in a given programme

Any programme can only deliver outcomes  from the courses comprised therein. Thus, it is obvious for a PILO developer to  carefully look at the intended learning outcomes of the collection of courses  in a given programme to derive what are the possible/suitable PILOs for the said  programme. There are a few areas of particular importance when analysing the  potential intended learning outcomes of these courses. These are:

  1. Giving more emphasis to the  core/compulsory requirements in the programme over the elective requirements.  Obviously core/compulsory courses are designated as such for a very practical  contribution towards the desired outcomes for the programme.
  2. Look at the  scaffolding/repetition effects of courses within a given programme. This can be  in the form of pre-requisites or the order courses are scheduled or both. These  scaffolding/scheduling often are in place to reinforce and build upon a  particular knowledge/skill in the students (e.g moving up the Bloom’s taxonomy,  from initial understanding of the fundamental principles of a topic, to the  application of such principles to solve problems in a particular situation).  Thus, this is an obvious source of PILOs for the programme.
  3. Another telling clue of the  importance for a particular course or set of courses in a given programme is  the weighting (time/marks/assessment) given to them. These are further clues to  possible PILOs for the course.
  4. Where they exist, look also at  courses which are selected to match or satisfy a particular professional or  occupational requirement and/or recognition. Once again, this is another  obvious source of PILOs.

A developer working on PILOs development  via observing the courses in a given programme need to keep in mind that while  courses ILOs are good indicators of possible PILOs, it is the sum of these that  makes up the programme. Hence, rather than coping the course ILOs as PILOs, a  developer need to succinctly develop what are the cumulative outcomes of all  these course ILOs as possibly suitable PILOs.