Last Updated on 27th March 2021

On the Outcome-Based Education (OBE)

Prof. Dr. Engr. Muhibul Haque Bhuyan
Professor and former Chairman
Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Southeast University


Prof. Dr. Engr. Muhibul Haque Bhuyan
Prof. Dr. Engr. Muhibul Haque Bhuyan

OBE-Outcome Based Education:- Recently, in the engineering education arena in Bangladesh, a new term is heard quite often. It is Outcome Based Education or in short OBE. Outcome-Based Education is about preparing students for life, not simply getting them ready for getting a job or employment.

Over the last few decades, some courageous and pioneering engineering education provider universities and colleges all over the world have used the principles of outcome-based education and got remarkable results. Besides, in Bangladesh, the Board of Accreditation in Engineering and Technical Education (BAETE) under the umbrella of the Institution of Engineers Bangladesh (IEB) has announced that after the 1st of July 2017 no engineering program will be accredited if they don’t find the application without adopting OBE model. BAETE wants to be the full member of the Washington Accord (WA) which adopted the OBE model for engineering programs. So, BAETE is compelled to do so. Because BAETE has to fulfill the requirements of WA by 2022. Thus all the universities offering engineering programs are under pressure of paying attention to adopt the OBE model for their offered engineering programs. In this context, a few public and private universities have already started implementing the OBE model. Therefore, a brief introduction of OBE will be discussed in this article.

Definition of outcomes

In its briefest form, an outcome is a culminating demonstration of learning. It is a demonstration of what the students will able to do after their graduation. Most people have thought over the years that the outcomes were the curriculum content that the students will know and recall on a test. But in fact, outcomes are not contents rather these are the performances or demonstrations of the students at the point of their course completion. That is, outcomes occur at the end. This has become one of the biggest issues in outcome-based education. Many years ago, we had outcomes that were just little skills. Now, we’ve got complex role performances as culminating outcomes. From an OBE perspective, it’s not a matter of what students had, or what courses they have taken. It’s a matter of what they can do when they exit their tertiary level engineering education system.

There must be some incremental outcomes along the way they become graduate from the university. We call those things enabling outcomes. They are the building blocks leading to the ultimate culminating demonstrations. In this process, students will not only be able to achieve lower-order cognitive skills but also they will be able to achieve their higher-order cognitive skills as well as affective and psychomotor domain skills that are necessary for the engineering graduates. They should not only be able to list of causes rather they must be able to explain those causes of a particular phenomenon and provide necessary solutions.

The modern history of this idea starting in 1968 with Benjamin S. Bloom’s essay “Learning for Mastery” which people are now calling outcome-based education. But what was called mastery learning institutions was more success-based than outcome-based. The focus was on creating more success for all the learners on whatever the individual teachers were teaching. Outcome-based education focuses on defining, pursuing, and assuring success with the same high-level culminating outcomes for all students.

How is outcome-based education different?

Sociologist William Spady urged teachers to focus on developing students’ skills instead of scoring exams, in a news conference in Quezon City, Philippines on 25 May 2017. Spady said the traditional grading system should no longer be used to measure a student’s performance in school.

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Spady called on higher education institutions to apply the four principles of OBE, namely: “clarity of focus of significance,” “expanded opportunity for students to succeed,” “high expectations for quality performance,” and “design down from where you want to end up.”

“Quality results that are produced by the universities are going to depend on how well they are going to implement those principles that make OBE powerful and effective,” he said. OBE can be defined in terms of four principles. The first principle, in shorthand form, is clarity of focus. That means that all curriculum design, all instructional delivery, all assessment design is geared to what we want the students to demonstrate at the “real-life” successfully- not just at the end of the week, at the end of the semester, at the end of the year, but at the end of their time with us.

The second principle is the expanded opportunity. It means expanding the ways and number of times kids get a chance to learn and demonstrate, at a very high level, whatever they are ultimately expected to learn.

The third principle is high expectations, which means getting rid of the bell curve. We don’t want bell curve standards, expectations, and results; we want all kids be able to do significant things well at the end.

The fourth principle is design down: design curriculum back from where you want your students to end up.

Tracing the History of the Idea of OBE

William Spady is the Head of Change Leaders. William Spady is a sociologist and is the father of Outcome-Based Education (OBE). OBE is referred to by over 20 different names including systemic education restructuring, performance-based education, standards-based education reform, high-performance learning, total quality management, transformational education, and competency-based education.

Spady was honored for his OBE works in the Philippines in 2015, where they were implementing OBE in some of their schools for grade level 10-12.

Spady grew up in a town called Milwaukie, Oregon, USA. When he was a graduate student and a member of the admissions staff at the University of Chicago, he went back to Milwaukie to recruit students for the University of Chicago. There he met a bright, intense, athletic young man named Jim Block and got him to come to Chicago. When Jim finished his bachelor’s degree in 1967 at the same time that Spady finished his PhD. Then Jim told him that he had a strong background in mathematics and like the research, he was doing in education. He wanted to combine his mathematics with educational research. Then Spady introduced him to Benjamin S. Bloom and thus Jim became Bloom’s graduate student. As Bloom was developing the “Learning for Mastery” idea, Jim did a lot of the basic research in it.

Spady joined the faculty at Harvard to teach social relations and education. His research interests were in the issues raised by the Coleman Report of 1966: equity of achievement, social class, and social mobility, but he also had a lot of organizational theory under his belt. So, when Jim Block told him about the fundamental changes associated with mastery learning—turning time into a variable instead of time being a constant, and having what Spady would call a criterion base for standards instead of comparative standards- he found the ideas theoretically compelling and took them immediately to the educational system level because he thought that the fundamental barriers to making the ‘Mastery Learning’ idea work were at the organizational and institutional level. So, he told Jim Block that he would fix the classrooms, and he’ll work on the total system.

Jim had two million classrooms to work on; Spady had 50 states. But the changes they envisioned were starting to come. People like Ted Sizer had done monumentally important work that time in calling attention to these systemic barriers: Carnegie units as seat time credentialing, and courses considered to be whatever subject matter student can learn in nine months.

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It was during the time Spady was at the Ontario Institute in Canada (1969-1973) that he began to shift his interests in his professional identity. He began to see himself less as a pure researcher and more as someone compelled by the issues to get the research and ideas into action. Both the substance and the purpose of his work have changed a lot since then.

When Spady was working on competency-based education at the National Institute of Education (now called OERI), he was arguing against minimum competency tests, insisting that they were not adequate measures of competency between 1973 and 1978. Twelve to fifteen years ago the big struggle was between “real competency” and what people were calling “minimum competency”- taking a legitimate notion- people need to be competent- and translating that into rigid testing programs to see whether kids could put commas in the right place and add columns of numbers by a certain age. But he thought a competency was a much larger construct that integrates and applies a lot of related skills, similar in fact to what is called transformational outcomes. Today, outcome-based educators are talking about complex roles of performances in real situations with real demands. What happened in that early era was that people took the exciting notion of having a system based on competency rather than on time, and they destroyed the idea of competency and the same thing will happen to outcomes if we’re not careful. The word “mastery” had already been destroyed through poor implementation. So, Spady urged to implement of “outcome-based education”. Now anything that moves is called an outcome.

Any new term gets distorted when policymakers get hold of them. It’s understandable; they’re trying to force accountability on a system whose subtleties they don’t recognize or appreciate because they think it’s fundamentally non-accountable and they’re right. The result today is that “outcomes” have been taken to mean test scores on tests of academic contents. The notion of higher-order competencies of complex role performances is absent from most state agendas. Minnesota state in the USA deserves credit as the real pioneer and was the first state to recognize the need to redefine the credentialing system and to have some higher form of exit outcomes for its graduates.

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Most of the recent history of outcome-based education has involved people taking their existing curriculum and writing outcomes derived from it. Today, we call that approach CBO: Curriculum-Based Objectives, not OBE. Currently, OBE advocates are talking about transcending that whole process. We are starting with what the research suggests about the future and we design down, or design back, from there. We’re talking about a systematic process called strategic design: determining as well as we can from studying the literature and available data about future trends and conditions that our students will be facing out there in the world. Once we get a reasonable handle on those conditions, we derive from them a set of complex role performance outcomes that represent effective adult functioning: to succeed as adults, people will have to be able to do this and that under these and those kinds of conditions. This emphasis on complex role performances puts the whole present curriculum content structure up for grabs.

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In a fully outcome-based system, what is called a transformational OBE, the traditional subject-based curriculum seems to be disappeared as the basic definer and organizer of the curriculum. But the content itself can’t disappear; we just develop a fundamentally different rationale for organizing and using it; one that is linked much more to what we call the significant spheres of successful living rather than to separate disciplines and subjects. For example, certain musical knowledge, certain aspects of philosophy, great works of literature and art- they’ll be taught, of course, but they won’t be segregated into separate subject compartments, and they’ll be linked more to the quality of life experience.

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Model of the OBE Curriculum

To start with modeling the OBE curriculum, at first, it is necessary to start with the exit outcomes: the complex role performance that the significant spheres of living require of us. After that, it is required to have a million exciting choices- those roles of performances arrayed at the top of a matrix, actual demonstrations of the capability to address life-role changes. These choices involve two things: the kind of competencies needed to build and the kinds of problems and issues they are linked to.

When Hong Kong Polytechnic University adopted OBE as an institutional strategy to further enhance and assure the quality of their programs and outcomes they used a model of OBE that embodies four dynamically related focuses as shown in Figure 1.

OBE model practiced at HK Polytechnic University
Figure 1 OBE model practiced at HK Polytechnic University

The critical dimensions or kinds of performances to be demonstrated become the columns of that matrix. The rows of the matrix are the significant issues and phenomena they will encounter within those life-roles. So, the decisions that are made as the rows and cells of that matrix are filled in, are the curriculum design decisions: they involve the knowledge, competence, and orientations (words for the affective and attitudinal dimensions of learning) that is deemed critical for assuring success on the outcomes. It’s probably fair to say that no public or private university system in Bangladesh has completely converted to this new approach to the curriculum. But a very good number of public and private university systems are making significant headway on it, i.e., they are committed to a transformational OBE system. Bangladesh government also formed Bangladesh Accreditation Council (BAC) that has also suggested the OBE model for obtaining accreditation from them. Of course, private universities have played a pioneered role in making the exit outcomes.

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There will be a set of outcomes that are important for all students, but individual universities will still have lots of discretion in how to achieve and document those outcomes. The BAETE has suggested twelve program outcomes (POs), but the individual program may add one or two POs.

How to go in the direction of OBE Implementation?

Two things are needed in the direction of OBE implementation. First, the universities should make a common platform to switch over from the traditional, time-based requirements that keep them from implementing a genuine outcome-based approach. This may not eventually be such a big problem for them.

The second thing is to keep reminding everybody that outcome-based education is a matter of consistently and creatively implementing the four principles.

Keep asking the critical questions about the four principles as given below:
• First, do we have a clear focus on what we expect of our students?
• Second, are we willing to provide expanded opportunities for our students to be successful?
• Third, what can we say about the system of expectations we have in our country? Look at our tracking; look at our grading system.
• Fourth, how do we design a curriculum? Are we designing down from clearly-established outcomes, or are we simply buying textbooks and perpetuating what has been done for the last 100 years?

If we stay focused on these four principles, we will become more and more successful in applying them, and more and more of our students will be achieving the outcomes we value.

[1] W. G. Spady, and K. J. Marshall, (October 1991), “Beyond Traditional Outcome-Based Education,” Educational Leadership, vol. 49: pp. 67-72.
[2] BAETE Accreditation Manual 2017– An Introduction, (accessed on 25 March 2021],