I want to introduce the idea of intended learning outcomes (ILOs) as a template for planning your productivity. Planning is a key part of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system but it’s perhaps an overlooked one. I think part of this problem is that it can be difficult to coordinate plans over the various recommended time horizons: career, 5 years, this year, this week, etc. ILOs help overcome this obstacle by clearly defining what you hope to learn and over what period.
An intended learning outcome is therefore simply a normative statement of your intended learning over a specific period. They are typically used in the design of courses, modules and learning sessions by helping students and teachers understand the scope of a particular lesson and how it fits with other content. For example, in a teaching situation, a set of ILOs might be:
By the end of this lecture, students should be able to:
- list three key features of apples
- compare apples and oranges
- assess whether an unknown fruit is an apple
This simple example shows the main features of a well-written ILO:
- they contain a clear timeframe.
- they should be SMART; that is, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Note for example that the first LO states exactly how many apple features students should be able to list.
- they should be phrased using an infinitive verb, chosen to represent an appropriate range of cognitive learning classes. Table 1 of this helpful ILO guide lists the various levels and some sample verbs. For example, to test surface-style knowledge-based learning you may wish to use verbs such as “list” or “recall”. However to test deeper understanding of a concept, higher level verbs like “evaluate” or “argue” can be used. (See here for more on surface versus deep learning styles).
- they should transparently support assessment. That is, as a teacher, you could easily design a test to assess how well you had taught the appley-lesson and similarly students would know exactly what was expected of them.
- Although not explicitly shown here, ILOs should also fit in with other objectives. They may for example be guided by overall course objectives.
Adopting ILOs for personal productivity requires very little modification. From the points above:
- Time frame: You still need to be clear about the time frame of your intended activities. In a later post, I’ll talk a bit about assessing your progress against ILOs but the early tip is to try and align the time frame of your ILOs to existing performance evaluations, such as your annual performance review.
- SMART-ness: They should still be SMART goals.
- Verbs and cognitive learning: This one may require some modification. Chances are you won’t find it very useful to list three new facts in a year’s time. However you may wish to divide your goals into similar easily assessed things, like “Publish two papers” along with more abstract things. Remember though you want to be specific: try and avoid statements like “Understand post-modernist geography” (bit of a losing battle that…) and go for something like “Write a two-page summary of major themes in post-modern geography” instead.
- Assessment: Again we’ll tackle this in a later post but try to keep your annual performance review in mind while writing your ILOs.
- Dove-tailing with other objectives: This is a key one. GTD advocates planning your goals over a series of different time horizons. If you write ILOs or other productivity statements for, say a five-year horizon, you should be able to use these to guide the creation and assessment of your “next-year” learning objectives.
In the next post, I’ll look at how to make the most of intended learning outcomes.