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OBE’s Evolution

IN4OBE - International Network for Outcome Based Education > OBE’s Evolution
A Fresh Perspective

OBE’s Transformational Evolution

Fundamental System Change

In 2015 I wrote a rather long paper about OBE called “A Transformational View of Outcome-Based Education.”  Its subtitle was:  “Learner Empowerment, Paradigm Shifts, Life-Performance Learning, and Fundamental System Change”.  With that many major things to address, it could have been a book, but I settled for fifteen pages.

This paper promises to be half as long, but the subtitle could have been just as imposing.  It could have been:  “TOBE’s Paradigmatic Essence, Operational Premises, Learning System Priorities, Cultural Attributes, and Evolving Future”.  As you’ve already noted, I settled for something simpler.  In offering this ‘fresh perspective’ on a subject I’ve been describing for thirty years, I’m taking a huge risk because what I’m going to share might not sound like Outcome-Based Education (OBE) at all to many people – with or without the word Transformational attached.  Here’s why.

 

 

OBE fever

A Very Short History

Back in 1987, my close colleagues and I brought something very radical to the attention of educators in North America who were beginning to catch ‘OBE fever’ in large numbers.  At the time OBE was really gaining traction across Canada and the U.S. because it proved to be both a powerful and an engaging approach to teaching and learning.  Our ‘actually-not-so-radical’ insight was that both education and educators were NOT future-focused.  Despite all the philosophy, rhetoric and claims to the contrary, the academic curriculum and educators’ conception of ‘outcomes’ were very successful at preparing students FOR MORE EDUCATION, but they were not what was needed for preparing students to face the complex realities of our dramatically changing world.  Hence, education wasn’t really preparing students for life.

In short, we realized OBE was doing a great job of honoring ‘Traditional’ academic learning, but it, like everything else educational, was being caught flat-footed when it came to sending future-ready graduates out into the volatile 1980’s and beyond.  So, to condense three years of creative thinking and mass confusion into one sentence:  OBE entered a very volatile period of ‘Transition’ about how to become genuinely future-focused.

Becoming Genuinely Future-Focused

Happily that changed in the summer of 1990 when Dr. Charles Schwahn and I held a series of week-long future-focused “Strategic Design” (SD) workshops in the U.S. in which we showed local districts how they could insight-fully and systematically develop what we called life-performance Exit Outcomes for their students.  Equally happily, the SD process was met with considerable enthusiasm, and OBE soon entered a new phase, bolstered by an elevated, more complex definition of outcomes on which everything else instructional could be based.  Because I liked alliteration (in which every word starts with the same letter) and because we wanted to transcend both Traditional OBE and the Transitional period we had just endured, we settled on the word ‘Transformational’ to characterize this new breakthrough.  At the time it appeared to be the best word for this new approach because implementing it was really going to require the educational system to ‘transform’ – especially if it were to become genuinely future-focused.

So there we were about twenty-five years ago with three different versions of OBE, each ‘based’ on a different kind of Outcome, and each starting with the letter ‘T’.  Little did we realize at the time that there was yet a different way of equipping students for the future they wanted to pursue, not just the one adults wanted for them. 

In retrospect, then, I’m suggesting that we had ‘jumped the gun’ on the word ‘Transformational’ because we hadn’t considered:

1) that our work would continue to evolve, and

2) that this inevitable evolution would eventually require us to transcend what we originally meant by using the word ‘Transformational’.  Therefore . . .

Strategic Design

Becoming Genuinely Future-Focused

Transformational

Happily that changed in the summer of 1990 when Dr. Charles Schwahn and I held a series of week-long future-focused “Strategic Design” (SD) workshops in the U.S. in which we showed local districts how they could insight-fully and systematically develop what we called life-performance Exit Outcomes for their students.  Equally happily, the SD process was met with considerable enthusiasm, and OBE soon entered a new phase, bolstered by an elevated, more complex definition of outcomes on which everything else instructional could be based.  Because I liked alliteration (in which every word starts with the same letter) and because we wanted to transcend both Traditional OBE and the Transitional period we had just endured, we settled on the word ‘Transformational’ to characterize this new breakthrough.  At the time it appeared to be the best word for this new approach because implementing it was really going to require the educational system to ‘transform’ – especially if it were to become genuinely future-focused.

So there we were about twenty-five years ago with three different versions of OBE, each ‘based’ on a different kind of Outcome, and each starting with the letter ‘T’.  Little did we realize at the time that there was yet a different way of equipping students for the future they wanted to pursue, not just the one adults wanted for them.  In retrospect, then, I’m suggesting that we had ‘jumped the gun’ on the word ‘Transformational’ because we hadn’t considered:

1) that our work would continue to evolve, and

2) that this inevitable evolution would eventually require us to transcend what we originally meant by using the word ‘Transformational’.  Therefore . . .

Here’s A Fresh Perspective on ‘Transformational’ OBE

In that 2015 paper with the imposing subtitle, I described how OBE thinking and practice did indeed continue to expand after the word Transformational came into our vocabulary.  Back in 2004 already, this continuing expansion had led me to identify five different paradigms, or fundamental groundings, through which OBE had transitioned/evolved – not just three.  The five clearly reflected a continuum of step-by-step transformational shifts, with a host of System Control characteristics dominating the beginning of the process and a corresponding host of Learner Control – what many would call ‘Learner Centered’ – attributes characterizing its end.

A decade and countless hours of thinking later, I realized that the elements in that evolutionary framework had continued to evolve, and so, in that 2015 paper, I identified and described six distinctly different paradigms, and added more distinguishing attributes at either end of the continuum to reflect their essence.  From top to bottom below, reflecting earliest to latest and System Control to Learner Control, I named them:

CONTENT Based

Academic Excellence

COMPETENCE Based

Applied Performance

CONTEXT Based

Life Challenge

CONTRIBUTION Based

Personal Fulfillment

CURIOSITY Based

Universal Exploration

CONSCIOUSNESS Based

Inner Realization

So, please notice with these six in mind that back in the day we were calling Content-Based ‘Traditional OBE’; Competence-Based ‘Transitional OBE’; and CONTEXT-Based ‘Transformational OBE’. Why? Because that’s only as far as our work had progressed up to that time! Although our OBE work eventually evolved and progressed well beyond these original three paradigms, the lower three on this continuum weren’t even on our radar screen yet, revealing a serious example of premature closure!

Taking a Deeper Look at Higher Education

But with two years of major OBE work separating that 2015 paper and today, and with most of that work focusing on higher education in both Saudi Arabia and the Philippines, I have had an even deeper awakening about the multiple faces/applications of OBE, especially as they relates to the three ‘T’ words. So here are the changes I am suggesting about the framework in that 2015 paper. First, most higher educators are focused on training career specialists, especially in today’s growing number of technically-related fields, and those fields have well- established specialized curricula. The specialists in these fields are, therefore, expected to be highly skilled at three things: knowing, thinking, and doing. And while OBE has placed great emphasis on the ‘doing’ component of learning, the knowing and thinking components should and cannot be ignored. The key is identifying how they can be ‘authentically demonstrated’. With that said, I see a considerable distinction between the Content Knowledge aspects of a curriculum and the Concept Analysis abilities that enable one to work adroitly with that content. Consequently, I believe that a paradigm called CONCEPT Based / Analytical Thinking should be recognized, added to the 2015 framework, and placed just below CONTENT Based on the continuum. Second, since both of these paradigms are shaped by external standards of expertise and/or professionally-defined criteria that determine the curriculum to be mastered, and since people in authority are determining what students should learn and demonstrate, both fall at the System Control end of the continuum. Therefore, in taking all of the above into account, I regard both the CONTENT Based and the CONCEPT Based paradigms as TRADITIONAL implementations of OBE. Third, I believe that the distinctions made in the 2015 paper about COMPETENCE Based and CONTEXT Based still hold. Both are about ‘doing’, both require skill, and both emphasize performance, not just mental capability. However, I view the skill-building aspect of the COMPETENCE Based paradigm as having more heavily guided and managed features than does its CONTEXT Based partner – the latter requiring more learner input, sensitivity, discretion and adaptability. They each represent departures from traditional academic learning and, therefore, fit in the middle sector of my new continuum – in what I consider to be its TRANSITIONAL zone, but on different sides of its center point.

TRANSFORMATIONAL

The Consciousness Based Anomaly

Fourth, before discussing which paradigms are TRANSFORMATIONAL and why, I want to consider the ‘feasibility’ of what’s in the new continuum.  Reluctantly, I no longer think that the CONSCIOUSNESS Based / Inner Realization paradigm in the earlier continuum is possible for virtually any public system to implement and cultivate.  Why?  Because it is simply too esoteric and too far outside the cultural norms of modern societies for them to grasp, advocate, and cultivate.  Yes, it is very ‘transformational’ in the best sense of the word; yes, it is highly honored and practiced in indigenous and non-Western cultures; yes, it is nurtured by gurus, shamans, and other revered spiritual teachers around the world; and yes, increasingly large sections of ‘modern’ book stores are devoted to writings about it.

Nonetheless, true CONSCIOUSNESS Based inner development is regarded by most people in ‘advanced’ societies as being some form of ‘alternative religion’, or as being ‘non-rational’ and dangerous, or both.  Consequently, even though I’ve given it the secondary name ‘Universal Awareness’, which is what it nurtures and what humanity badly needs after millennia of perpetual warfare, I view it as TRANSCENDENT to OBE – lying somewhere beyond the reach of OBE’s guiding principles and operational essentials.  Hopefully ‘advanced’ societies and their education systems will one day evolve to the level where ‘Transcendent’ will become the new ‘Transformational’, and attunement with universal consciousness will be viewed as a legitimate outcome of ‘civilized’ education.  But that day hasn’t yet arrived yet, and until it does, educational transformation will fall short of this ultimate evolutionary level.

make things fit

Revising the Teeter-Totter Diagram

Fifth, please know that what follows is ‘revelation’ and insight, rather than an attempt to ‘make things fit’ a predetermined symmetrical pattern.  So consider, as I have, that at one end the teeter-totter diagram that accompanied the 2015 paper used the following words to describe what I am now calling TRANSFORMATIONAL:

Paradigms that invite the exploration and expression of new possibilities.
And then contrast it with the words at the other end of the teeter-totter that define the two paradigms that I’m now calling TRADITIONAL:
Paradigms that stress the transmission and acquisition of accepted knowledge.

(So before moving on, please refer to the updated teeter-totter diagram accompanying this paper for a more complete visual picture of what’s being described verbally.)

To reinforce this distinction, I have recently created a word that captures the latter ‘old paradigm’ meaning of OBE: ‘INpowerment’. INpowerment represents adults putting knowledge and skills INTO students; it’s the content that the adults regard as ‘essential’ for the students’ future success. By contrast, OBE’s ‘new paradigm’ counterpart captures the essence of my new understanding of Transformational: ‘EMpowerment’ – where learners take charge of their own learning; recognize, develop and express their unique gifts, talents, and interests; and chart their own courses toward a fulfilling future, not just a ‘successful’ one.

Because EMpowerment puts learning and performance standards in learners’ hands, it transcends common understandings of how OBE works. Nonetheless, it is totally consistent with the OBE concept of ‘expanding the conditions affecting learner success’ – especially if schools were to open themselves to what those conditions currently are and ultimately could be.

So, in considering the deeper meaning and implications of these various concepts and success conditions, I believe that there are two distinctive paradigms that fit under my new TRANSFORMATIONAL umbrella. One I call CREATION Based / Talent Expression, and it sits next to CONTEXT Based in the new continuum. The one at the end of the new teeter-totter continuum I call CURIOSITY Based / Limitless Exploration. It lies at the far end of OBE’s ‘feasible’ continuum, partly because I trust that Limitless Exploration will eventually lead learners to discover for themselves the transcendent state of Universal Awareness. Not only that, I think CURIOSITY Based represents the highest expression of both ‘new possibilities yet to be discovered’ and the impetus underlying EMpowerment.

The Three Paradigmatic Dimensions of OBE

Transformational OBE’s Major Premises My confidence in this assertion was bolstered a decade ago in a two-year series of working sessions with a distinguished, widely-published group of learning psychologists. The task we set for ourselves was to consolidate the most cutting-edge theory and research about learning into an ‘enlightened’ declaration of how American/modern education should proceed into the 21st Century. Since I regard their research findings as the foundation on which EMpowering, Transformational OBE rests, I present here, as TOBE’s Major Premises, their view of human nature and humans’ innate desire and capacity to learn. HUMANS are born curious and naturally explore life and their world, HUMANS vary greatly in their rates and ways of learning, HUMANS are born social, and their learning is naturally influenced by others, HUMANS can learn, create, and change throughout their lives, HUMANS naturally use all their senses to learn, HUMANS can take charge of their thoughts and emotions, HUMANS naturally appreciate and seek to create quality and beauty, HUMANS can naturally access and utilize their innate inner wisdom. HUMANS can transcend their perceived limitations, and HUMANS’ capacities for intuition, insight, imagination, and creativity are inherent, powerful, and unlimited. Since I regard these ten bold statements as the knowledge base underlying TOBE, I’ve sought to describe how they translate into actionable learning priorities that are consistent with the two Transformational Paradigms identified above: CREATION Based and CURIOSITY Based. A very satisfying answer came a few years later when I asked a large international group of progressive educational reformers to comment on the learning system priorities the original group had developed in 2008. I’ve incorporated their helpful suggestions into the following set of statements. Transformational OBE’s Learning System Priorities From this integrated perspective, then, EMpowering TOBE learning systems: Honor the diverse backgrounds and intrinsic talents, interests, motivations, and deep inner essence of each individual learner, View human learning as innate, multi-sensory, and holistic, Encourage novel, creative thought, problem framing, and problem solving, Optimize the conditions and organizational supports that foster learning success for every learner, Integrate the holistic, seamless nature of life experience, knowledge, and identity, Respect the brain’s natural propensity for meaning, harmony, and organization, Probe deeply into the innate potential of the mind-body system and the social and cultural influences that stress and undermine it, Explore significant avenues of human potential and life experience over looked in conventional academic curricula, Engage deeply with nature, the ecosystem of the planet, and one’s role within it, Utilize the benefits of collaborative exploration, activity, and work in real-life Contexts, Develop higher-order thought processes and complex life-performance abilities in all learners, and Address deeply significant ethical and moral issues directly and offer feasible ways to address them. Clearly, these twelve statements reflect the vision of a learning system that transcends established academic norms. That’s why implementing them will provide an enormous challenge to any conventional educational system, no matter how progressive its leadership and faculty. As I’ve considered this formidable task, my mind has been bombarded with ‘O’ and ‘E’ words that are vital to supporting such an effort. Those words, I realized, were the key elements in any organizational culture that was committed to, and engaged in, transformation.

Transformational OBE’s EMpowering Culture of OBEs

Eventually, I created a framework from these ‘O’ and ‘E’ words that would at least partially capture the qualities, attributes, values, and processes that support the kind of paradigms and learning systems I’ve been describing.  This framework of words can be displayed in a number of ways, so I’m asking you to do some imagining with me.

First, I came up with a series of six ‘O’ words that have been central to the continuing evolution of OBE over the decades.

Openness Opportunity Optimism Options Originality Ownership

I then assembled a list of six ‘E’ words that met these same criteria: Empowerment   Encouragement   Enlightenment   Exploration   Expression   Evolution

When I tried to match them up by putting the word ‘Based’ in the middle, I found that each O word made sense and could compatibly match up with more than one E word.  Consequently, my list of matching OBEs got longer and longer as I reflected on the factors that had led to the frameworks I’ve been describing over the decades.  So I stopped looking for ‘perfect’ matches and surrendered to the possibility that under various conditions, each O word on my list of six might actually match up with each E word, giving me a world record of thirty six OBEs, none of which included the words ‘Outcome Based Education’.

The Transformational OBE Wheel

This resulting plethora of OBEs is illustrated in the diagram on the following page that I call “The Transformational OBE Wheel.”  All you have to do is follow the instructions that are provided there about rotating the outer E rim of the wheel and you’ll end up with the thirty six OBEs I’ve just mentioned.  Your assignment, then – should you choose to accept it – is to keep cranking the Wheel and look at each new set of six potential OBE matches.  Note down on a ‘master list’ the ones that ‘make sense and match up’ compatibly for you.  Once you have matched up all six O words with each E word, add up the number of compatible matches on your master list, place the number in the blank space below, and repeat after me:

Without establishing and sustaining these supporting conditions and processes, it is highly doubtful that Transformational OBE will ever gain attraction in the educational systems of modern societies.

 

So as not to be dismayed by this statement, your goal and mine should be to establish and sustain these conditions wherever we can locally, regionally, and nationally.  That will give us plenty to work on and work with as we traverse the OBE teeter-totter from TRADITIONAL to TRANSITIONAL  to  TRANSFORMATIONALone paradigm shift at a time.

For me, it’s a mission that’s worth undertaking, just like the subtitle of my original 2015 paper indicated:

TOBE is about “Learner Empowerment, Paradigm Shifts, Life-Performance Learning, and Fundamental System Change.”

So I invite you to join me in that mission.  Where else can you engage in such challenging, inspiring, and valuable service to humanity?

The Transformational OBE Wheel