How Outcome Mapping Can Help You Challenge and Support Your Students

As an assessment professional, I have a deep appreciation for many elements of education that aren’t discussed, understood, or used to their full potential as much as they deserve.

One such thing is outcome mapping.

What is an outcome map?

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An outcome map shows the alignments, relationships, and connections between learning outcomes and interventions. Since learning outcomes can exist across multiple levels of every higher education environment, mapping the alignment of outcomes helps students and staff visualize the connection and fit between educational experiences.

Academic affairs professionals, including faculty, often use outcome maps to indicate the connection and progression of outcomes in relation to their programs. Mapping can demonstrate:

  • the connection of course-level outcomes to a class assignment (indicating what is measured from the course)
  • course-level outcomes to the program-level learning outcomes (demonstrating how a course fits within the overall program sequence) 
  • program-level outcomes to the institution’s broader learning outcomes (illustrating program contributions in a larger framework).

Outcome maps are relevant for student affairs professionals, too. Maps can help show the connection between ongoing services and co-curricular programs to learning outcomes within a department while showcasing how content can roll up to divisional or institutional levels. 

Check out a great example of a co-curricular map from Saint Paul College here.

How can you utilize outcome mapping in your work?

Outcome maps can demonstrate the coherence of events, activities, and programs offered by your office. They can support you in designing interventions, maintaining or growing services within a department, and even in assessing impact on students.

Outcome maps communicate structure and context for a program at a department level, while also showing relationships to larger frameworks (such as divisional or institutional outcomes) and smaller structures (such as outcomes of individual workshops within a leadership program). In this way, maps can communicate the purpose and fit of activities within and beyond a given area.

To put a finer point on purpose, outcome maps communicate connection and relationships between outcomes and interventions. They are beneficial to anyone seeking to:

  • Design programs from the outcomes up 
  • Highlight overlapping connections (in order to spot unnecessary redundancies or essential reinforcements), as well as gaps for outcome embedding (which can be vital when you, your supervisor, and upper-level administrations are considering consolidation of resources or future budget allocations)
  • Orient students to the purpose, sequence, or relationship between one program and another, as well as to relevant division or institutional competencies
  • Give students language (and even co-curricular transcripts) for expressing their skills and the benefits of co-curricular involvement to prospective employers
  • Contextualize interventions in relation to intended student learning, aligning with common language or outcomes across the institution

How can outcome maps benefit assessment?

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Outcome maps are such a natural and complementary fit within assessment work, that I often have to convince people that they are not exclusively intended for assessment purposes! But for anyone new to outcome maps, here are five primary ways they can be used for your assessment goals:

1. Categorizing content 

With outcomes mapped to interventions, someone planning assessment for the year could be guided one of two ways:

  • Interventions indicating outcomes measured: Focus on certain programs and see the related outcomes to be assessed as a result. For example, if rolling out a new leadership program within student activities, the assessment focus for the year could revolve around the leadership program, with clear elements to assess indicated by looking at the operational objectives and learning outcomes mapped to the leadership program.  
  • Outcomes measured across interventions: Focus on specific outcomes and look across the related interventions for data-collection opportunities. With an institutional shift to online activities, a division-wide emphasis for the year might be assessing the use of relevant resources for support, where aligned connections to more specific outcomes and support-related resources guide data sources for the year.

2. Signaling strategy

Other areas and departments can see when, where, and what types of student learning you are measuring in order to determine if it is relevant or complementary to their purposes. Such transparency can lead to invaluable collaboration and resource-sharing between offices.

3. Leveling learning

While outcome language can signal complexity, seeing where the learning occurs in relation to other outcomes and interventions can help set realistic expectations for what skills students should be demonstrating. In other words, mapping can help contextualize outcome language and expectations.

4. Visualize structure

Outcome maps create a visual depiction of learning connections between interventions and across levels ( he department, the division, and the institution). This can help communicate purposes and relationships throughout the institution, while also offering a new modality or format to further appeal to the ability of individuals to conceptualize or understand information.

5. Identifying issues. When analyzing results, outcome maps can aid in identifying barriers or sequence problems related to student learning pathways.

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Students have a laundry list of activities, experiences, and (lately) Zoom sessions to engage in, and outcome maps can communicate connections to a larger purpose. Moreover, it can add purpose and intentionality to attendance and engagement – especially if a student recognizes an area in which they need to gain more skills or experiences.

For educators, maps can make the institution’s outcome framework more specific and transparent. Consequently, maps serve as a secondary medium to promote services and interventions through a learning lens – which is especially relevant to faculty who may not always be aware of the extent learning outcomes guide non-classroom college programming. 

For student affairs professionals, maps can serve as blueprints of outcome connections between programs, offering a translation of purpose and intentionality to relevant audiences. Additionally, outcome maps are an invaluable asset for assessment to aid in planning, data collection, interpretation of results, and strategy for action. 

And it’s worth noting that maps can have all of these purposes and benefits without needing to be formal or fancy; a simple table or list with interventions and outcomes can be your map. I’m wishing you a map-happy future! 

What questions do you still have about outcome maps? Connect with us on Twitter @themoderncampus and @JoeBooksLevy.

This is Part One in a series on outcoming mapping. Part Two can be found here.


Joe Levy

About the author: Joe Levy (he/him) is the Executive Director of Assessment and Accreditation at National Louis University. Joe is passionate about data-informed decision making, accountability and promoting a student-centered approach inside and outside of the classroom. Learn how we can help get your students involved.