Having clear learning goals in a course has been a great step forward for education. In courses where this practise is used (and used well) students know exactly what they will be able to do if they successfully learn the material in the course. There is also a clearer view of what the practical requirements are for what they have to do to prove that they have learnt what they are supposed to learn.
The problem comes when you don’t really agree with the learning outcomes of a course. Now, I know that any course contains core material, but at the same time students should have the freedom to decide what they concentrate on. For example:
I am currently taking a course called “Numerical Approximation and Discretization”. The learning goals boil down to “understanding, selecting, utilizing, assessing and creating” different Numerical Approximation techniques.
Now, I will never have a career in numerical approximation. However, I might find it useful to understand and select techniques of numerical approximation in some future research that I do. I will probably never have to create my own technique so why should I learn how to do it? Or even more importantly, why should I be assessed on my ability to do that? Would it not be possible for us to be provided with a range of possible learning outcomes for a course and let us choose the ones that we want to pursue? Those can then be tested more rigorously. We would still be exposed to the other things, but will be allowed to concentrate on that which we are passionate about. I don’t think that this is that far fetched, for instance I already get to choose the courses in the program that interest me, why not have a choice over the goals within those courses?
I know that any form of granularity makes a professor or curriculum committee’s job much harder. However, in courses where assessment is already based around certain outcomes I feel it would not be too difficult to weight assessments based on the student’s preference in outcomes.
It all really boils down to this: Should students have some kind of input on their goals learning goals for a specific subject, or is that something that should only be decided by a curriculum committee?