By now, most faculty will have heard the call for more active learning practices in our classrooms and like many of us, I have experimented with infusing such activities regularly into my courses. Thus I was not expecting a whole lot of new information as I perused Dee Fink’s book Creating Significant Learning Experiences. However, I was wrong.
‘Significant learning experiences’, according to Fink, have both ‘a process and an outcome dimension’ (Fink, pp.6-7): the process produces engaged students, and thus high energy in the classroom, and the outcome shows lasting change in the students’ understanding of the material, as well as value in their personal lives.
Fink’s approach is based on two assumptions: 1) course design should emphasize the interrelatedness of learning goals, teaching and learning activities and feedback and assessment as shown in this diagram , and 2) Bloom’s taxonomy for learning objectives should be modified to include categories beyond application such as integration, human dimension, caring, and last but not least, learning how to learn (compare the diagram on the ‘Taxonomy of Significant Learning’ here).
The concept of the integrated course design portrays learning goals, teaching/learning activities, and feedback and assessment in a circle, each component dependent on the other two. Why Fink thinks it is not enough merely to add some active learning activities to an existing class is that the activities—be they in-class or out-of-class–ought to become more challenging as the class progresses,. Moreover, adequate feedback must be given for each of the activities; and, finally, assessment must conform to the subject matter and activities as well as to the overarching learning goals of the course. Students should be informed of how activities / exercises etc. will be assessed; a detailed grading rubric might prove helpful.
The component of ‘Teaching and Learning Activities’ includes passive and active learning activities, with Fink stressing the importance of active learning both inside and outside the classroom. Student reflection on the meaning of their own learning experience is an integral part of active learning.
Fink’s categories for learning objectives are relational and interactive rather than hierarchical. Each kind of learning is related to the others, and it is possible to achieve several kinds of learning simultaneously.
What has been done to put Fink’s taxonomy and course design into practice? A library search produced Fallahi’s article Using Fink’s Taxonomy in Course Design (9/2011). The following excerpt comes from this article:
Goal #1. Decrease the emphasis on course content and foundational knowledge. Don’t try to cover every possible topic,
Goal #2. Increase the emphasis on active learning. No longer lecture driven, my redesigned course was now based on active-learning assignments. I had to be creative and consider teaching methods beyond the typical lecture-based instructional approach.
Goal #3. Apply course content to real-life problems.
Now instead of assessing my goals through content-based examinations, I re-designed my class to incorporate assessments of the six taxa.
Foundational Knowledge was assessed by multiple-choice items…
Application and Integration were assessed through several case studies. Students were presented with real-life problems and asked to show their understanding of the problems by citing developmental theories. In addition, students were required to develop innovative methods for solving these problems by using material that was presented in class as well as by identifying other interventions through independent research.
The Human Dimension was assessed through reflective writings that incorporated new ideas and insights into contemporary lifespan development problems.
Caring was assessed with a Likert rating scale on which students responded to statements about how much they cared about the course, its content, and humanity in general.
Overall, Fink and other practitioners report that students experience deeper learning which might have more lasting impact than the learning by conventional means. Should you be interested in learning more about Fink’s course design ideas I recommend his A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning, available free on the internet at trc.virginia.edu/Workshops/2004/Fink_Designing_Courses_2004.pdf. This guide will provide you with many of the details that Fink provides in his book in a more interactive way.
Fink, Dee, L. (2003) Creating Significant Learning Experiences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Fink, Dee L. (2004) A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. Retrieved from trc.virginia.edu/Workshops/2004/Fink_Designing_Courses_2004.pdf
Fallahi, C. Using Fink’s Taxonomy in Course Design, APS Observer Vol.24, No.7 September, 2011.