Learning outcomes are an expected component of most academic majors at U.S. universities [Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), 2009; U.S. Department of Education, 2006]. Students are expected to learn as a result of instruction based on a predetermined set of measurable outcomes (Krathwohl, 2002). Having documented outcomes creates expectations for students and aids in their choice of major (Burden and Byrd, 2003; Krathwohl, 2002). They provide a roadmap for curriculum development and a framework for assessment of student learning (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2010). Learning outcomes are usually developed for specific institutions based on available resources, current personnel, and the local context. However, students interested in a horticulture career must be broadly educated and prepared for a myriad of opportunities that exist throughout the country and world (APLU, 2009). In addition, employers increasingly indicate students are showing a dearth of skills in key areas, such as communication, and ability to engage and interact with others (VanDerZanden and Reinhart, 2009). Horticulture involves not only science, but also aesthetics, public education, business practices, and considerable human interaction. For this reason, learning outcomes developed for other scientific disciplines may not be sufficiently broad for a horticulture curriculum.
Learning outcomes should incorporate multiple levels of learning, ranging from lower- to higher-order thinking skills (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001; Bloom et al., 1956). The original taxonomy of learning objectives includes knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Bloom et al., 1956). Fink (2003) described a new “taxonomy of significant learning,” emphasizing not just acquisition of knowledge, but also the search for meaning and coherence inherent in the human dimension, and the need to go beyond content mastery to include personal and social implications of what has been learned.
Learning outcomes, as defined by the Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence (2012), are “measurable statements that articulate what students should know, be able to do, or value as a result of taking a course or completing a program.” Learning outcomes are recommended for guiding overall educational programs, whereas leaving ample space for individualized decisions about more specific learning objectives. For example, a learning outcome might indicate students should understand plant physiology. Depending on individual courses, professors, or universities, a course may focus student learning on specific plants as models of physiology, such as tulip (Tulipa sp.), corn (Zea mays), or sequoia (Sequoia sp.).
More practically, horticulture departments across the country are disappearing as stand-alone units and are being merged and integrated with other plant-related departments. Many horticulturists fear that horticulture as a major and career track will be lost with organizational changes in academic institutions, and acknowledge the challenge of adapting the major in ways that are appealing to the current generation of students, many of whom are unfamiliar with the major, or associate it with low pay and physical labor. A discussion was started among academic leaders about the need to develop learning outcomes with wide applicability for four-year horticulture programs in the United States. Broadly accepted learning outcomes would help maintain a horticultural identity, lend credibility to programs, and ensure some common knowledge, skills, and understandings among horticulture graduates or horticulture programs.
Anderson, L.W. & Krathwohl, D.R. 2001 A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Longman, New York, NY
Association of American Colleges and Universities 2010 Rising to the challenge: Meaningful assessment of student learning. 17 Feb. 2013. <http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED519804.pdf>
Association of Public and Land-grant Universities 2009 Human capacity development: The road to global competitiveness and leadership in food, agriculture, natural resources, and related sciences (FANRRS). 17 Feb. 2013. <http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED519804.pdf>
Bloom, B.S., Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H. & Krathwohl, D.R. 1956 Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Longmans, New York, NY
Burden, P.R. & Byrd, D.M. 2003 Methods of effective teaching. Pearson Education, New York, NY
Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence 2012 Setting learning outcomes. 17 Feb. 2013. <http://www.cte.cornell.edu/teaching-ideas/designing-your-course/settting-learning-outcomes.html>
Daft, R.L. 2005 The leadership experience. Thompson, Mason, OH
Fink, L.D. 2003 Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. Jossey-Bass, Hoboken, NJ
Middle States Commission on Higher Education 2007 Assessing student learning and institutional effectiveness: Understanding Middle States expectations. 17 Feb. 2013. <http://www.msche.org/publications/Assessment_Expectations051222081842.pdf>
U.S. Department of Education 2006 A test of leadership: Charting the future of U.S. higher education. 17 Feb. 2013. <http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/hiedfuture/reports/final-report.pdf>
VanDerZanden, A.M. & Reinert, M. 2009 Employer attitudes and perceptions of job preparedness of recent Iowa State University horticulture graduates HortTechnology 19 647 652