From Learning Reconsidered 2
Once we design outcomes, we can approach our assessment strategy in two ways: Outcomes to Practice, or Practice to Outcomes.
“The two primary approaches to outcomes in practice are (a) drawing the bulls-eye first, and then figuring out how to hit it; or (b) drawing a circle around the hole later. The first approach (outcome to practice) is to identify a student learning outcome and identify existing or new programs that might be needed to develop that outcome in targeted students. This approach is intentional and planned. The second approach (practice to outcome) is to take any existing program and map it onto the learning outcome clusters to see which ones it most likely advances. In either case, assessment data are needed to determine whether the intervention (e.g., program or policy) contributes to the development of that outcome.”
The first method would be ideal, because then you could use backward design to intentionally design your program to meet those outcomes. And if you are designing a new program or initiative, this is what you should do. But also, we have existing programs and interventions and services, and those need to be assessed as well.
In the second approach you… “take an existing program…and chart it onto the learning outcomes, demonstrating which outcomes are developed by that program.”
“However, it is important to note that in this second approach we are not advocating taking existing programs and forcing them to fit onto some learning outcomes grid based on what “sounds” good. Rather, if feedback has not been gathered about a program, it needs to be, and then, based on that feedback, a program can be mapped onto the grid. This may create opportunities for discussions about why certain programs exist and open doors for more creative, holistic ways of approaching some of the student learning outcomes; we encourage these discussions to take place. Regardless of the approach, assessment data are critical to know if those programs do accomplish the intended goals.” (Learning Reconsidered 2, pp. 26-27)
Keeling, R. P. (2006). Learning reconsidered 2: Implementing a campus-wide focus on the student experience. ACPA, ACUHO-I, ACUI, NACA, NACADA, NASPA, and NIRSA.