Book: Creating Significant Learning Experiences

Fink’s book, now out in an expanded second edition

I read L. Dee Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences while I was working with faculty on some first-year humanities courses, and his framework for thinking about course outcomes changed my entire approach.

His course design process isn’t notably different from other models, but his call for broad, beyond-the-content learning outcomes is unique. It’s congruent with what I feel were the strengths of my own liberal arts college experience.

Instead of approaching learning outcomes by looking at the content, Fink wants you to consider a broader picture:

  • Foundational knowledge
  • Application (to real situations)
  • Integration (with other courses, personal life, civic life)
  • Human dimensions (learning about themselves and others, about the profession, about working in groups)
  • Caring (interest in the subject, interest in other areas, values)
  • Learning how to learn (in the subject, in college, in the workplace, in life)

Most course-design models hit those first two elements but leave the other four unexplored (or at least unenumerated).

But can those be measurable course outcomes?

Fink argues, and I agree, that the cognitive domain of Bloom’s taxonomy limits us: “Individuals and organizations… in higher education are expressing a need for important kinds of learning that do not emerge easily from the Bloom taxonomy” he says (p. 34). If we have other outcomes in mind for students for a course, then why are we restricting ourselves? We end up valuing what we can measure instead of trying to measure what we value.

Fink does still want us to assess those last four categories and to be transparent about expectations, but he puts less emphasis on mechanically linking the wording of the outcomes to specific cognitive areas or levels of rigor. For him, depth and enthusiasm during the class matter more than a rigor level written in the syllabus.

To me this is wholly more persuasive than much behaviorist and constructivist micro-design of learning. There’s no doubt, though, that assessing those non-content areas is challenging—especially online—and subjective.

More human feedback and interaction than is the norm for an online course? Good!

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