Using learning intentions & success criteria to empower distance education students

Defining what it means to be a successful learner is key to ensuring distance education students are actively engaged, rather than passive learners. We invest significant time and resources in creating quality, engaging online learning experiences, and developing a connection with our learners. However, it was easy for our students to slip into a compliance approach to learning.

In 2021 Finigan School of Distance Education (Finigan SDE) spent time investigating how our students engage with their learning. When asked, students found it difficult to articulate what they were learning or how they were progressing. Students also stated that if they were ‘stuck’ with their work they would contact their teacher for help. The school decided to work on strategies to develop the capacity of our students to actively engage with their learning.

One aspect that we decided to focus on to improve student ownership of learning was teacher clarity. This included asking teachers to be explicit about the learning intentions and success criteria (LISC) for each lesson. The power in this strategy lies in the students being asked to articulate what they are learning (and why), how they are going (self-assessing) against the success criteria and identify their next steps.

The school spent 2022 ensuring staff had a consistent understanding of quality learning intentions and success criteria. Walkthroughs were used to gather deidentified data to track the strategy’s consistent application across the school.

Templates and guides were developed to assist teachers with the construction of their LISC and to ensure students have the opportunity to engage with surface, deep and transfer level learning activities.

The checklist supports teachers to check the quality of their LISC.

Students are asked to self-evaluate at the end of each lesson, referencing the success criteria. This has the benefit of the student actively reflecting on their learning. An additional benefit is the teacher gains an understanding of the impact of their teaching and whether aspects of the lesson need to be revisited or reframed.

A recent student survey (of over 150 students in October 2023) indicated a 41%increase, within 12 months, in the number of students engaging with feedback to inform their next steps with learning.

Our students aren’t physically in front of us each day and we are not always available at the time they get ‘stuck’ with their learning. LISC has proven to actively engage students with the process of learning and develop their capacity as life-long learners.