Learning Goals and “Significant Learning”

It took me a while to get to writing this blog post because I knew I wanted to set aside a good chunk of time to actually read through Fink’s guide regarding ID for “significant learning.” And I’m glad I did! I found Fink’s ideas to align well with Understanding by Design, the ID framework I came into this course already somewhat familiar with. In fact I think the question, “what would I like the impact of this course to be on students, 2-3 years after the course is over?” is almost identical to what Wiggins and McTighe advocate teachers to ask themselves when considering the big ideas of their curriculum.

What I don’t recall getting from UbD is what Fink calls the Taxonomy of Significant Learning:


It’s basically significant learning (or what Wiggins and McTighe call enduring understandings) broken up into categories that interact with and feed off of each other. It’s not an exhaustive list, I’m sure, but it gives a starting place to generate ideas of what it actually means to have “learned significantly.” Having this framework is so helpful for setting big-picture learning goals, especially for someone like me who can tell you when I see it happening, but I have a hard time articulating out of thin air what exactly significant learning looks like.

Luckily, Fink provides some guiding questions about the different facets of significant learning to consider when setting my learning goals so I don’t have to come up with the big ideas and applications to be gleaned from these lessons completely on my own. I’ll break them down in the context of my own teaching situation here.

Foundational Knowledge

What key information (e.g., facts, terms, formulae, concepts, principles, relationships, etc.) is/are important for students to understand and remember in the future? What key ideas (or perspectives) are important for students to understand in this course?

Big-picture, I think obviously they should remember in the future the foundational concepts of research, including tools and strategies, but also core concepts like how getting a full picture about a subject requires info from multiple, and varied, info sources.

Application Goals

What kinds of thinking are important for students to learn? Critical thinking, in which students analyze and evaluate Creative thinking, in which students imagine and create Practical thinking, in which students solve problems and make decisions What important skills do students need to gain? Do students need to learn how to manage complex projects?

I want these students to think creatively about finding information from many sources–not just the web, and not just from the library. I also think practical problem solving will come into play, as research can act as a way to solve a question…which they can definitely employ even after this course is over. For the purpose of this course I’m going to assume critical thinking has been established and engrained from previous study.

Integration Goals

What connections (similarities and interactions) should students recognize and make…: Among ideas within this course? Among the information, ideas, and perspectives in this course and those in other courses or areas? Among material in this course and the students’ own personal, social, and/or work life?

They’re taking this course in conjunction with another course, and it would make sense for them to learn things while doing their research that complement their coursework for their capstone class. It would be great if they could integrate ideas from this course into their careers after graduation. Most of the students from the most recent cohort were going into the communication field after graduation, and I’d love for the understandings to be transferable to what they are to do in the field.

Human Dimensions Goals

What could or should students learn about themselves? What could or should students learn about understanding others and/or interacting with them?

That they have ideas worthy of adding to the scholarly conversation, and that they shouldn’t see themselves as mere consumers of information.

Caring Goals

What changes/values do you hope students will adopt? Feelings? Interests? Ideas?

I loved my senior capstone paper because doing the research was a chance to teach myself something completely unique. I hope students will leave this course feeling the same.

Learning-How-to-Learn Goals

What would you like for students to learn about: how to be good students in a course like this? how to learn about this particular subject? how to become a self-directed learner of this subject, i.e., having a learning agenda of what they need/want to learn, and a plan for learning it?

Self-directed learning is a must for research, and I want these students to get that from my class. Out in the real world, after this class is over, they’re going to be on their own as to when and how they interact with information. I want these students to be able to thrive without someone looking over their shoulder constantly.

(As a side note, I find Fink’s taxonomy really interesting when contrasted with Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is structured as an actual sequential taxonomy. There are echoes of Bloom’s, but there’s no “aha, I’ve reached the pinnacle of mastery!” moment in Fink’s taxonomy. Maybe I’ll have something more substantial to say about this later.)


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