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Toward ideal enacted mental models of learning outcomes assessment in higher education

William F. Heinrich (Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Article publication date: 9 October 2017



The purpose of this paper is to explore the enacted mental models, the types of thinking and action, of assessment held by faculty and staff in higher education.


This research approaches the question: in what ways are “learning outcomes assessment” understood (thinking) as part of a system and assessed in the individual’s work (practice)?” Interviews and concept maps were used to identify influences, descriptions of actions, and connections to environments for 12 participants, known to have engaged in learning outcomes assessment.


By connecting individual perspectives to broader organizational understanding, a goal of this research was to identify and analyze how educators understand and practice learning outcomes assessment in higher education. Influences on assessment presented in the literature are confirmed and several behavioral types are defined and categorized.

Research limitations/implications

The findings focus attention on the ways individuals act on influences in systems of higher education. The findings yield opportunities for new ways to utilize assessment knowledge. The study is small and has implications for similar type institutions.

Practical implications

Faculty and staff can use these findings to create training and development protocols and/or adjust their own practices of assessment. Assessment professionals can apply findings to consulting on an array of assessment projects and with staff who have varying skill levels.

Social implications

The ways in which assessment is practiced is deeply influenced by training but is also shaped heavily by current environments and accountability structures. Policies and practices related to such environments can make a difference in preparing for scaled-up assessment practices and projects.


This research offers insight into possible archetypes of assessment behaviors and presents applied influences on assessment.



This research was supported in part by the NASPA Region IV-E Research and Assessment Dissertation Research Funding Award.


Heinrich, W.F. (2017), "Toward ideal enacted mental models of learning outcomes assessment in higher education", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 9 No. 4, pp. 490-508.



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