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Learning outcomes and critical thinking – good intentions in conflict

Journal article
Authors Martin G. Erikson
Malgorzata Erikson
Published in Studies in Higher Education
Volume 44
Issue 12
ISSN 0307-5079
Publication year 2018
Published at School of Public Administration
Language en
Keywords Critical thinking, learning outcomes, purposes of education, student experience, curriculum
Subject categories Public Administration Studies, Learning, Pedagogical Work


The notion of critical thinking and its theoretical complexity are used as a case for an epistemological critique of the model of intended learning outcomes. The conclusion is that three problems of learning outcomes, previously discussed in the literature, become even more challenging when seen in the light of critical thinking. The first problem concerns interpretations, as the use of learning outcomes is dependent on advanced but implicit interpretative frameworks. The second is the problem of educational goals that cannot be expressed through learning outcomes, and the third is the risk that learning outcomes may establish a ceiling for student ambitions. It is argued that the example of critical thinking shows the seriousness of the epistemological critique of learning outcomes and how the use of learning outcomes can divert teachers’ and students’ attention away from important goals.

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