How to design a course in Financial Regulation: Step 1 – defining intended learning outcomes

In an ideal course, both the relevant learning activities and the assessment are designed and aligned in a way that supports students to achieve the learning outcomes intended for this course (Kuhn, 2009). This requires, in a first step, the development of precise ‘intended learning outcomes’. These, in turn, depend on our understanding of what we are actually teaching and how financial regulation should be practised. Only then, in a second step, can we design and align the relevant learning activities and assessment methods so that they achieve the intended learning outcomes in the best possible way.

Ways of teaching and practising financial regulation

In my earlier blog post on Financial law and regulation as a social science and the implications for teaching and learning, I have already described the ways of teaching and practising in the discipline of international financial regulation. On this basis, we can summarise that students should learn –

  1. To appreciate market drivers for financial activity and consequential societal concerns;
  2. To leave behind pre-conceived ideas of why the market needs regulation;
  3. To recognise the historical development of financial markets and their crises as catalyst for the development of regulatory concepts and standards;
  4. To accept the societal dimension of financial markets;
  5. To be able to view regulation and its effects from different perspectives;
  6. To be alert to the interconnection of market and regulation and the phenomenon of path dependency;
  7. To communicate precisely regarding perceived market adverse effects and potential alternative regulatory solutions;
  8. To analyse the efficiency of such alternative regulatory solutions and balance them.

Intended learning outcomes

On this basis, the following intended learning outcomes can be identified. Their role is to define what students are able to do with the learned (Biggs 1996). At the end of my course on financial regulation, my students should be able to

  1. Recognise and describe the tensions inherent in the relationship between financial activity and regulation.
  2. Summarise and reflect all effects of relevant policies within the transactional risk-return dichotomy.
  3. Evaluate and critically assess the societal perspective of existing tensions between systemic risk and economic growth.
  4. Describe and critically assess different regulatory solution models in the light of considerations regarding both, system protection and economic efficiency.
  5. Use regulatory solution models independently from any specific jurisdiction or environment.

These intended learning outcomes come quasi-naturally with a more student-focused approach to teaching (see my earlier essay on Teacher-focused vs. Student-fo.cused teaching in small and large group settings). They require and at the same time allow for more room to learn on the basis of evaluation, critical reflection, analysis, theorisation and the creation of new connections. As a consequence, they solidify these techniques in the student’s repertoire of learning and practising international financial regulation.

Impact on the usefulness of the assessment

These intended learning outcomes will enable me to assess the quality of the student’s learning, instead of looking at the number of different aspects they have memorised (Biggs and Collis 1982). Following Biggs’ and Collis’ SOLO-taxonomy, intended learning outcomes and assessment are integrated on the basis of a ‘structure of the observed learning outcome’. Integrating intended learning outcomes with the assessment allows appreciating what students have learned. While in principle they are all starting from the same blank page, various factors will lead to a situation in which the quality of what they have learned differs. An assessment that is integrated with the intended learning outcomes allows to see whether students have picked up only one or few aspects of the task (uni-structural), or several aspects which remain, however, unrelated (multi-structural), or whether they are able to integrate them into a whole (relational), and finally, whether they have learned to generalised the whole and integrate them into untaught applications (extended abstract).

Assessments would be better aligned if they were, at least partly, in the form of an assessed essay (I will discuss the practicalities in a later post).  Assessed essays allow students to apply what they have learned, including in the assessment, whereas the classical 2-hour exam basically requires to quickly reproduce pre-acquired knowledge and to repeat, even complex, reflections that students have produced and stockpiled during the preparation for the exam. Assessed essays would, therefore, better reflect what students have really learned: critical thinking in the area of financial regulation. Thus, the assessment will be at the same cognitive level as the maximum cognitive level of the teaching – avoiding that the learning quality is determined by the lower quality assessment instead of being determined by the curriculum (Biggs 1996, 350).

Summary

In order to achieve the highest possible learning quality, it is indispensable to align the curriculum with the teaching method and with the assessment, on the basis of the intended learning outcomes. As a consequence, the quality of teaching and learning is massively improved (Biggs 1996, 350). The whole process is also known as ‘constructive alignment’.