There's an old joke about what you call the person who graduating last in their medical school class. The punchline is that you call them doctor. They have completed medical school and met all of the requirements necessary to show they have the requisite knowledge and skills to be a doctor and so they are a doctor. There are specific standards for what is required to complete medical school. In any well-prepared instructional designs there are learning outcomes which can be measured as either meeting the standards specified or not. End of story, right?
Hey, not so fast. It is not always so easy to determine if learning is completed. What does that even mean in a world that is changing at break-neck speeds? What about what the learner views as completed? Was the learning pushed to or pulled by the learner? What is mandatory or voluntary? Does that matter? Should that matter?
Well, I would say it depends. I have completed many MOOCs, for instance, that the institution offering them would say I did not complete. I got what I needed from the course, whether or not I completed every assignment, so I marked myself done. Perhaps I was participating because the syllabus offered me a curated collection of resources that I could dive into to solve a particular skill or knowledge gap I wanted to fill. I don't feel bad that I lowered their completion rates. I think they perhaps need to rethink and redefine how they measure the success of their courses.
Here's another example. A number of years ago I facilitated a long-term, blended learning program that had two champions at the start of the project. They were both fully committed and participative in the development and sponsoring of the course. They had very different definitions of completed, however. Both wanted behavior change and agreed to the learning outcomes specified in the course curriculum, at least on the surface.
One, however, was absolutely insistent that each of their department's participants complete every single activity available in the course, even if they did so half-heartedly and with very little substantive contribution to their own learning or the community of participants. She demanded that every checkbox be ticked. The result was that learners got ticked off and didn't want to participate. Any gains we had seen in their behavior change were shorter-lived because they now got the message that it was more about completing the course than changing their ways.
The other manager recognized that the activities in the course were there to aid the behavior change and if one person needed or wanted to do every single one that was fine, but if someone wanted to skim through some sections where they already could and were demonstrating the behaviors being addressed, they could move along. Years later, I still see a difference in her participants. She was looking at the learning outcomes as part of much bigger, longer-lasting outcomes, and she has been rewarded many times over for her vision.
Of course, here I have been focusing on completion of specific courses or curriculum, not completing learning since that is never going to stop. But I'll end today back at an earlier question: Does completion matter? Sure. But it's not quite the simple question as it might appear at first. What do you think?