An Ode to Pedagogy

Working in education, I spend a large part of my time thinking about pedagogy. I’d venture a guess that you do too. Pedagogy is complex and intricate.

It informs entire school processes, guiding educators in classrooms, district offices, and all levels in between. In addition, the goal of any pedagogical approach is nearly the same: student achievement. Moreover, pedagogy is a means to an end, and each approach arrives at the end differently

What other division of work has that sort of congruence?

In my research, I find the most pervasive and revolutionary development to pedagogy in recent years is the introduction of outcome-based education.

With a history of over thirty years of political, technological, and educational attempts to elevate student learning through defined results, outcome-based education provides an excellent case study for school change.

Outcome-based education bridges school planning and student learning. It is an all-encompassing approach to education, which connects institutions to people.

What is Outcome-Based Education?

In a more traditional education model, students are expected to regurgitate facts through rote memorization; whereas outcome-based education bequeaths students with overarching knowledge and skills.

These overarching knowledge and skills are less derivative of specific content areas but rather overarching concepts that support them as citizens, professionals, and lifelong learners.

Outcome-Based Education:

  • Outcome-based education is a comprehensive approach to instructional planning that designs learning in accordance with an intended outcome.

Outcome-Based Learning:

  • Outcome-based education affirms teachers as facilitators, rather than lecturers.
  • In this model, teachers guide students through learning with scaffolded and hands-on activities to support student engagement with new material and encourage the application of developing knowledge and skills.

Outcome-Based Planning:

  • Outcomes are interdisciplinary, interconnected, and year-long. Outcomes offer a holistic narrative for student learning throughout their tenure at a school.

History of Outcome-Based Education

Outcome-based education is rooted in the standards-reform movement. The following information is adapted from Frontline’s: “Are we there yet?…the long (unfinished) road to national standards.”


The standards-based movement is well over thirty years in the making and dates back to a DOE report authored under Reagan’s administration, which warned of a national school system no longer preparing students with skills needed to succeed professionally. The committee recommended the release of a common core curriculum to guide instruction.

While the political atmosphere prevented the rise of a federally authored curriculum, states began to create their own curriculum that was influenced in part by business leaders’ involvement in education policy – business needs a well-educated human capital.


While efforts failed over the coming two decades to produce a nationally mandated curriculum, states continued to author curriculum themselves. President Bill Clinton did, however, introduce large scale testing to gauge student understanding of skills such as reading. The national assessments resulted from a bipartisan authored list of education goals to be achieved before the year 2000.


The dawn of nationally prescribed standards occurred under Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy, which dictated grade-level learning standards that were assessed in year-end, high-stakes assessments.


From there arose the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reformed assessment and standards with the introduction of the Common Core.

Standards-Based Reform

What has guided standards-based reform is the drive to create a common goal for education and to uplift learning and aid the work of teachers.

  • Standards create focus and continuity, and both the private and public sectors recognized the need for these within education.
  • Moreover, standards-based reform is our first view historically into outcome-based education reform.
  • Just like in outcome-based education, standards were authored to identify the importance of what students will know and do.
  • The standards-based movement was born out of an attempt to ensure education meets the needs of professional organizations, so that current students can become tomorrow’s leaders.

In regard to the standards-based movement, hindsight is enlightening as the results of some of its initiatives tempered their efficacy.

The deleterious effects of standards reform have clouded the view of outcome-based education in some ways. However, outcome-based education can be reformed and revisited, which is something we are seeing today.

And in learning from the mistakes made through the standards reform movement, we can better design learning experiences and school improvement.

What was the issue with the standards reform movement? In part, it became overly prescriptive. By bulleting topic-specific items, vocabulary, and other specific knowledge that students should know, outcome-based education shifted from adaptive and concept-based towards those mastery- and competency-based programs discussed earlier.

The why disappeared; the whole was compromised. Knowledge and skills sat in a vacuum lacking continuity and a bigger picture. Educational author and former teacher, Jenny Froehle (Froehle), explains below:

The world is complex; problems do not come packaged simply. Only practice with complexity can provide the experience our children need to survive in the unpredictable world ahead—a future of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, global climate change, a growing understanding of the universe, and shifting geopolitical powers…Our charts of skills and knowledge divided for every discipline are not designed for a world where convergence matters and where complex problems demand creative interdisciplinary solutions. It’s time to simplify our standards with a more complex end in mind.

When there is a shared set of outcomes that continues for several years, teachers can design instruction more effectively. Resources are developed, reused, and updated to become more effective, clearer, and more beneficial for student learning.

Based on the development and revision of these resources, educators create libraries of instructional materials that are collated over time and tested through their application.

From year to year, adjustments are made based on student feedback and achievement. Teachers grow professionally and hone their craft.

With an outcome-based approach, teaching becomes an iterative and creative process. It’s clear why a dictated set of outcomes is required to elevate education and prepare students.

outcome based icons

What Makes Outcome-Based Education Different?

Similar to approaches like mastery- and competency-based learning, outcome-based education:

  • Outlines learning objectives
  • Adapts learning to suit students
  • Provides support and resources to students
  • Allots the necessary time to achieve the objectives

The primary differentiating factor is that outcome-based education defines why a skill, knowledge, or behavior is important (Sessums). Moreover, outcome-based education addresses what students will be able to do and what they will be able to know, answering what students learn and why (Brandt).

To assist with defining outcome-based education, below are key characteristics of the approach (Brandt, Sessums).

education students people knowledge concept P6MBQ5W


Outcome-based education is student-centered, defining knowledge and skills identified for student learning.


Outcome-based instruction is personalized and adapts to students’ needs.

enduring understandings


Outcome-based learning encourages high-level thinking. Similar to Webb’s DOK, continuity in outcomes encourages progression in student skills from basic recall to extended strategic thinking.


Outcomes are conceptual, overarching, and interdisciplinary.

performance assessment


In an outcome-based approach, students demonstrate knowledge through performance assessments, meaning assessments that are multidimensional and require students to engage with content in authentic ways.


Outcome-based education is designed with the end in mind through backwards planning.

Resurgence of Outcome-Based Education

When looking at the defining characteristics of outcome-based education, it is clear that outcomes must be holistic and that large-scale shifts in instruction and school process are necessary. The standards reform movement sought to systematically improve learning outcomes by defining expectations of students and then periodically assessing to see if these results were achieved.

In the face of these shifts, new approaches to education were introduced, though often took a back seat as standardized test scores determined success.

However, as emphasis on testing has been tempered, these newer, student-centric approaches have been able to take hold.

Perhaps this is in part due to the introduction of technology in the classroom, which can propel student learning in ways never imagined before. Today, outcome-based methodologies are reflected throughout innovations in education. Education is reclaiming what it means to be outcome-based.

Below is a list of ways outcome-based education is manifested:


Curriculum has evolved into an iterative and continuous process. With access to curriculum development software and technology, curriculum has evolved into learning design that is continuously refined and improved.

21st Century Skills

Education reform began as a method to ensure students were prepared for future jobs that required non-content skills such as innovation, critical thinking, and collaboration. Now, 21st century skills are explicitly defined, and learning is structured to fulfill them.

Atlas standards alginmen


Standards have also shifted from content specific to conceptual, focusing on the learning process, e.g. the NGSS and C3 framework.


The ways in which students demonstrate their learning are also changing. Rather than summative paper and pencil assessments, like Project-Based Learning encourage students to engage with outcomes in hands-on and relevant ways.

PD Ideas

Concept-Based Curriculum

This approach to curriculum design moves away from subject-specific content andinstead emphasizes concepts and“big ideas” that span multiple subject areas or disciplines.

Universal Design for Learning / Personalized Learning / Blended Learning / Project-Based Learning

The emergence of personalized education calls for differentiation to ensure students have the resources to learn in ways most suitable for them. Learning becomes malleable to students’ needs.

Standards-Based Grading

Grading practices are also evolving. As curriculum and learning are centered around outcomes, e.g. standards, educators adapt grading practices to explicitly label how students are doing with respect to different outcomes, which gives students, parents, and teachers actionable and explicit information about student learning.

All this is to say that education reform is never simple. Schools are multi-faceted, dichotomous ecosystems. Teaching is a practice that is continuously revised and honed, and learning is a years-long journey. Improvements made to education require time and diligent, integrated planning.

The metamorphosis of outcome-based education to this point reminds us that change must be taken in stride, quick fixes rarely yield the results we intend.

Instead of top down initiatives, on the ground approaches to teaching seek to educate students in empowering and individualized ways and yield positive results reflective of the outcomes set.

Now, we are going to ask how we can translate outcome-based education into comprehensive planning for school improvement.

Outcome-based education, for it to be truly outcome-centric, must permeate all levels of schools from the classroom up to district offices. After all, the outcome approach is not only a best practice for teaching, but also for leadership and change more generally.

The hallmark of any successful organization is a shared sense among its members about what they are trying to accomplish. Agreed-upon goals and ways to attain them enhance the organization’s capacity for rational planning and action.

Schmoker and Marzano

Outcome-Based Planning for Outcome-Based Education

Outcome-based planning is a necessity for achieving outcome-based education. Schools are ecosystems – all levels must work in tandem with one another. If teachers are developing outcome-based instruction, but leadership is not encouraging this practice and tracking results, then the work is done in a vacuum. Vice versa – outcomes are not impacting students’ day-to-day learning.

Lack of congruency feeds frustration and missteps, which hinders initiatives and renders them ineffective, similar to the plight of standards-based reform.

Brandt explains (Brandt): “Educators need to examine every other aspect of the school’s operation to determine what changes are needed—in grading policies, for example—to ensure that larger numbers of students will in fact be prepared to demonstrate the outcomes.”

Outcome-based planning presents four types of values:

  • Clear direction: Mutual understanding of goals across stakeholders
  • Data and evidence: The progress of change can be measured toward outcomes
  • Partnership: Everyone is working to an end goal together and the focus shifts from day-to-day to the strategic future
  • Communication: Stakeholders communicate

Outcomes must be able to incite action, frame an end goal clearly, and be understandable by stakeholders (Community Planning Toolkit).


The first step is determining your vision – your overarching outcome. When determining your outcome – your overarching vision, we recommend using SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound.

Once your vision is in place, you can move onto the other elements. Your SMART goal should outline your process and provide you with metrics by which you measure progress and success.

I want to improve alignment to standards within curriculum.

Over the course of the next two years, I want to revamp standards alignment and ensure teachers are aligned to and assessing the NGSS within the curriculum.

I want to differentiate better with my students.

By the end of this school year, I want to shift instruction to a more personalized approach by including differentiated activities to improve student learning.

Outcome-Based Planning Examples

By considering elements needed for change and translating those into process planning, you are setting yourself and your team up for success.

The below worksheet offers ideas for planning change and elements to ensure success.

Change Management guide 1

These elements feed success, and when one is lacking, the initiative suffers. To translate your vision into skills, incentives, resources, and an action plan, follow a backwards design model.

Just like curriculum starts with the end in mind, so should your plan.

By communicating your vision in a template, you clearly define the desired outcome and process, incentivize stakeholder participation through its benefits, measure progress with data, create an actionable plan, and ensure adequate resources.

  • Standards | Vision
  • Enduring Understanding & Essential Questions | Long-Term Takeaways
  • Content & Skills | Knowledge and Skill Acquisition
  • Assessment | Data Collection
  • Learning Activities | Professional Development and Training
  • Resources | Resources (Time, Funds, Personnel)
Template 1 1
Template 2 1


If a journey towards comprehensive outcome-based education has taught us anything, it’s that a well-articulated vision and process can generate monumental change in student learning.

Opportunities for innovation abound, and when all stakeholders buy into the process, the outcome flourishes. Educational institutions have the power to transform student learning and drive success in the 21st century.

Much like the intention of earlier movements, outcome-based education seeks to improve student performance and develop successful citizens and professionals.

Outcome-based education recognizes that this is only achievable with well-rounded and integrated instruction fostered through the empowerment of teachers and personalization of learning to propel student achievement.

Nuclear technology is sophisticated, and was invented by learned individuals who would have scored highly on math and science exams. But what good is knowledge if it is used for destructive purposes – and what good is it if a child knows all their times tables, if their house is destroyed in a nuclear blast?

CleverLands, p. 68

The journey towards outcome-based education demonstrates that outcomes must be holistic and dynamic. Sure, it is easy to revert to readily accessible data, but how can you push your school to demand a more and better understanding of student achievement?

How can you redefine outcome-based education as a school-wide process?

You must look at the whole picture, acknowledging that key elements are interrelated – that in the ecosystem of education, teacher support is directly tied to student success, data is valuable when considered in conjunction with instructional initiatives, student background, etc., and change occurs when an articulated outcome and action plan guides a team towards a noble, yet achievable, vision.

Download the Outcome-Based Education Planning for Learning Design eBook


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