The Theory of Outcome-Based Learning

Here at eLeaP, we often cover various learning theories and concepts, because we think it provides a valuable foundation for creating e-learning and employee training to suit a range of needs.

Outcome Based Learning and Training

One learning theory worth exploring is called outcome-based, and it’s a hotly debated issue in school systems and within general education, because it is driven by results, rather than the process of learning. While parents of students and educators may be unsure of whether or not this approach is a valuable one, it can work well within the realm of corporate training in many ways.

Outcome-based learning represents a shift from objectives to outcomes, but what happens, as a result, is that training becomes more focused on the learner. In traditional training and learning models, materials are designed by the instructional leader, or perhaps the training managers at a company. They guide the curriculum and content, as well as the learning objectives, teach the content over a set period of time, and then trainees are assessed on what they learned as a result. It’s instructor-driven in these models.

This learning and training style is used by the United States Military Academy to train students, and they describe it in the following way:

An outcome, when related to training/education is slightly different than training or learning objective, even though an outcome is part of the definition of the training objective. Just as a commander’s intent states the broader purpose for the operation, an outcome provides a broader purpose for the training or instructional topic. Outcomes include intangible behaviors that are difficult to measure (objectively) but are easily observable in practice by more experienced observers such as trainers and instructors. Whereas learning and training objectives depend upon, indeed require, action-oriented words to frame assessment for objective measurement, outcomes provide a broader, and from a military perspective, more useful measure of effectiveness.

With an outcome-based model, the goal isn’t necessarily to follow a predetermined timeline or set curriculum but is instead to build upon the individual trainee’s preexisting skills, knowledge, and experience.

Some of the characteristics prevalent in outcome-based learning may include hands-on activities, interactivity, and real-world influence.

As you can see by the way we describe it, outcome-based learning is actually the best way to train employees in most instances, because it inherently carries the elements we frequently discuss as being valuable to the training experience.

Characteristics of Outcome-Based Learning

  • Outcome-based learning, also called competency-based learning, focuses on not just the memorization of concepts, but a deeper level of understanding leading to mastery of both skills and knowledge.
  • This type of learning is inherently self-paced in most instances. There aren’t time constraints, and the goal is, as mentioned above, real mastery, rather than completing a course or a training section in a certain amount of time.
  • Collaboration is an important component of outcome-based learning, whether that be with other trainees and colleagues, or with mentors.
  • Not only is learning of skills necessary but so is a reflection on the learning experience. This means the trainee will not just work to learn concepts being presented, but will also take time after the completion of a training course to gain a deeper understanding of his or her experience and how it can then be applied to their real life.
  • Self-reflection is also incredibly important to the learner can see not just what they’ve been able to master, but also where gaps in their own knowledge base may exist, so they can plan for future training.
  • With this training style, you’re granting your employees a sense of autonomy and control. This is something that can be valuable not just regarding training, but also for retention and your talent management strategy. When you give employees the opportunity to direct their learning experience, you’re telling them you trust them as capable adults, and you believe they will uncover the best route to get to where they need to be regarding training and skills mastery.
  • With this competency and learning-centric training method, instructors and training managers do still hold a sense of accountability for the experience of trainees, but they also are required to be flexible and able to respond to a wide variety of situations along the way.
  • Outcome-based learning can be valuable not just for training employees on technical skills, but also on soft skills because they teach employees how to think. They’re constructivist in nature, which is something that proves to be beneficial when trying to train on concepts such as leadership and communication.


Just because this training style focuses on the learner’s experience doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be assessed. The goal of assessments following this type of employee training should concentrate on identifying the mastery of competencies. This could be done in any number of ways, from hosting a webinar which asks students to discuss training and its implications in their own jobs, to having trainees participate in on-the-job assessments.

To add some structure to the evaluation process, it’s always good to create pre-determined rubrics of success. The rubrics are going to look different than simply letting an employee know how many answers he or she got right on a quiz, and they’re instead going to explore comprehension and application.

What’s most important to keep in mind when assessing and analyzing trainees within an outcome-based framework is transparency. Assessment is an essential element for trainees to understand how they’ve performed, but also where improvements are needed, which is why transparency is so important.

Other means of assessment that could prove useful in business training could be directly measuring employee performance. By pairing performance management with learning management, employees and supervisors can gain a real look at how training is impacting work performance both in the short and long-term.

Creating A Training Plan

First and foremost, with an outcomes-based model, remember flexibility is key. Since the focus isn’t on the process, but rather a result, there should always be a willingness to make changes as training goes along.

This is why e-learning proves to be an ideal delivery method—it’s simple and inexpensive to make changes in training materials and processes as you go.

When creating a training plan you should also look at learning objectives that are measurable in some sense, since it’s these goals around which training will be built.

Finally, develop a training plan centered around principles and the answering of why, rather than how. This will help employees cultivate problem-solving and critical thinking skills which are invaluable in the workplace.

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