Why outcomes-based education is the future of the classroom

OBE ensures students we meet the needs of every student, every day
By: | May 27, 2017

In the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, education was designed to produce students who could follow directions, read simple sentences, and solve basic math problems in order to prepare them for factory work. Thinking critically and solving complicated problems wasn’t necessary for most jobs. As we’ve moved from that era into the digital age, we’ve seen a material shift in the careers our economy values and needs. As all industries increase automation and with the growth of advanced analytics, researchers out of Oxford predict 47% of US jobs are at risk of being replaced by software or machines1. Students today must be able to make connections across a wide variety of subjects and find novel solutions to problems. These skills are especially relevant in the explosive tech industry and careers requiring this skillset are in increasingly high demand — jobs for data scientists are expected to rise 16 percent through 2024, computer systems analyst positions are anticipated to rise by 21 percent through 2024 and jobs for web developers are expected to grow by a whopping 27 percent through 2024, according to recent data.

Because of this change in valued skills, it’s more important than ever for students to develop imagination, creativity, and the ability to look critically at the world in order to be successful when they enter the workforce. But our current public education system is stuck in a centuries-old design that doesn’t encourage them to achieve these goals. We all know we need to do it differently and outcomes-based education could very well be the answer.

Outcomes-Based Education

Outcomes-based education (OBE) prepares children for today’s real-life situations by leveraging behavioral tasks to show students have mastered essential concepts. Instead of one vague letter grade for an entire subject or year, OBE leads with explicit, measurable learning objectives that empower students to undertake meaningful tasks at their own pace, while supporting rapid differentiation for those who fall behind or need acceleration.

With OBE, learning expands beyond the classroom. For example, students could take STEAM classes during the summer, and use those experiences to scaffold mastery of outcomes and skills in the classroom. OBE gives students flexibility in pace and place, removing the one-size-fits-all structure of the classroom and allowing students to master concepts in their own time, while learning how to think critically, conduct research, develop their own opinions and find connections between disparate subjects.

We’re seeing the shift to OBE gain velocity with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This new law encourages educators to continue the progress made under waivers to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and design curriculum with high academic standards to prepare for college and career, while also encouraging local communities to innovate in their public schools. By allowing states to locally determine what their students learn and how they assess it, teachers are empowered to use OBE and their students benefit from it. This outcomes-based evolution has already garnered amazing results — high school graduation rates are at all-time highs and more students are attending college than ever in American history. As local processes under ESSA are further solidified, the shift to OBE will continue to help students master fundamental skills.

Why It Matters

We no longer have the luxury of maintaining the status quo. Students must be given opportunities to master the skills necessary to meet the demands of our modern digital economy. Focusing on outcomes — scaffolded by strong edtech that removes some of the administrative burden of teaching so we can focus on our students — enables differentiation for every student everyday, removes the artificial restrictions of a single pace and place, and ensures success for all our students. With OBE, this time there truly is no child left behind.

Hilary Scharton is VP of K–12 Product at Canvas by Instructure