Inside OBE – It’s about life-roles

In parts one and two of this series, I described how Roy Killen of Australia and I applied the OBE concept of ‘Outcomes of Significance” to South Africa’s 12 Critical Outcomes (COs). We discovered that the 12 COs embody four quite distinctive kinds of abilities that really matter in the long run well beyond the specifics of any given subject area, grade level, formal examination or level of education (see December and January editions of theTeacher).

I also showed how the essence of each CO could easily be elevated and translated into what advanced OBE implementers call ‘role-performer” language. This enables educators at all levels to view and address both learners and the COs in human/personal terms.

Defining outcomes in this way encourages teachers to elevate their thinking about outcomes from skills and abilities in the abstract, to their actual embodiment in learners themselves. In other words, the driving issue for teachers shifts from ‘What knowledge do I want my learners to possess?” to ‘What skills do I want my learners to demonstrate?”, and then on to ‘What kind of people do I want my learners to become?”.

Clearly, however, making this major shift requires educators to adopt a creative – and even revolutionary – approach to all aspects of their teaching practice, above all placing the learner at the centre of the educational picture.

Killen and I created a tool – our Curriculum Design Matrix – that directly helps educators organise their curriculum thinking around any set of complex role-performance outcomes. (See matrix)


Note that we consistently used two of OBE’s four defining principles in developing the design matrix:

1. Clarity of focus on outcomes of significance; and

2. Design down from your ultimate outcomes. In this case, these principles meant:

1. Focus your curriculum planning on the five Life-Role Outcomes (LROs) in the CO framework – with the intention of having all learners develop them successfully – because they are the framework’s ultimate outcomes of significance; and

2. Provide learners with knowledge, competence, orientation and challenges that will enable them to do so – the strategic/analytical, social/relational and orientations/thinking represented in the other COs.

Consequently, the matrix contains five columns – one for each of the five Life-Role Outcomes (LROs) shown at the top. The left margin of the matrix lists the five factors we felt were essential in developing and demonstrating each LRO. A quick glance reveals that the defining elements in the matrix include all 12 critical outcomes, either as LROs or as key enabling outcomes.

Once you translate the labels that define the columns and rows into basic planning questions, the matrix is easy to use. First, you should start with the LROs.

Using the left column and its role performer labels as our example, the overall design question would be: What kind of continuing learning experiences will systematically help all our learners become prudent, organised life managers?

To answer this significant question, we would proceed down the rows of the matrix and further ask:

  • What are the essences of prudence and being organised, how would I know them when I see them, and how could I best develop them in my learners?
  • What is the essence of life management and all its critical components?;
  • How would I know them when I see them, and how could I best address and develop all of them in my learners?
  • The elements in the rows of the matrix become particularly valuable in answering these questions. For example:

  • What general and specific knowledge about life and life management in today and tomorrow’s worlds would we want learners to know and be able to apply if they are to become prudent, organised life managers?
  • What kinds of strategic and analytic competences found in COs 1a, 1b, 4, 6a, and 8 are essential for prudent, organised life managers to develop and demonstrate?
  • What kinds of social and relational competences found in COs 2 and 5 are essential for prudent, organised life managers to develop and demonstrate?
  • What kinds of perspectives and orientations found in COs 7 and 10 are essential for prudent, organised life managers to develop and demonstrate?
  • What kinds of real-life challenges will equip our learners to become prudent, organised life managers?
  • Part 4 of this series describes how teachers can begin to define and address the essential performance components in LROs of this kind.

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