Professional excellence: defining learning outcomes for honours higher education

Melissa Fuller, Patricia Robbe, Marca Wolfensberger

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Honours programs prepare talented students to become future excellent professionals . However, competences defining an excellent professional have not been elucidated yet. We investigated how professionals characterize an excellent communication professional, aiming to develop a competence profile to guide honours education at Communication Institute of Hanze University of Applied Sciences.

Conceptual framework

The amount of freedom in honours education is an important aspect distinguishing honours from regular programms. However, also for honoursstudents an amount of structure is needed. Explicit learning goals are an effective way to offer structure and enhance performance (Locke & Latham, 2006). Competence profiles can direct these learning goals in honours education.

Research questions and design

We performed empiric research to understand how professionals characterize an excellent communication professional and implemented this competence profile in honours education. One year after implementation, perceptions of students and staff on the profile and its implementation were analysed.Using a mixed-method approach, three focus group discussions were conducted with communication professionals (N=16), followed by a Delphi panel with experts (N=30). In each focus group, professionals discussed competences and behaviors characterizing an excellent communication professional. After validation, the profile was implemented in the honours programme. One year after implementation, students and staff evaluated the use of the profile.

Data collection and analysis

All focus group sessions were recorded and transcribed. Analysis was done by two researches independently, using open coding on ATLAS ti., based on the grounded theory method. In a consensus meeting, a concept profile was developed. This concept profile was validated through a Delphi survey with Dutch experts to achieve a quantifiable consensus. One year after implementation, perceptions of students and staff on the profile and its implementation were collected and analysed.


Data clarify that in addition to possessing solid technical skills and practical knowledge, excellent communication professionals are differentiated by their capacity to be strategic, empathic, expressive, decisive and to see patterns and interrelationships. In a second phase, honours faculty used the excellent professional profile as a benchmark to develop a set of six undergraduate level learning outcomes to structure the honours programme and assessment standards. For each of these learning outcomes, smaller developmental milestones were defined to help students gauge their development and reflect on their progress during three honours years. A digital assessment tool was created to monitor student growth and structure annual summative assessment processes. One year following creation and application, students and staff were asked to evaluate the implementation of the excellence profile and learning outcomes. Results are discussed in terms of implications for both curriculum design, operational effects and assessment quality. 


This research promotes an connection between the professional field and educators, resulting in curricular changes. The implemmentation of competence profiles of excellent professionals in honours curricula offer clear learing goals to guide student’s development and, furhtermore, improves the transition from educational programs to professional practice, allowing students to develop (or strengthen) competences and behaviors which are, according to professionals themselves, essential for that profession. This exchange between professional field and educators can lead to new standards needed to face future challenges.

Theoretical/Practical implications

This is the first empiric study profiling the excellent communication professional. Practical relevance of this profile is twofold. For the work field, it describes competences which could be used for strategic selection of high potential candidates. For educators, it offers guidelines for assessment and curricular development, especially in honours education. In this presentation we explain 1) the research conducted to develop a competence profile for the excellent communication professional, 2) how it was subsequently used to guide curricular development and 3) the experiences concerning implementation by staff and students one year following implementation.

Originele taal-2English
StatusPublished - 2016
EvenementCompetence 2016 Wageningen: International Conference on Competence Theory, Research and Practice - Wageningen University Campus, Forum, Wageningen, Netherlands
Duur: 19 okt. 201621 okt. 2016


ConferenceCompetence 2016 Wageningen
Verkorte titelCompetence 2016
Internet adres


  • honoursprogramma's


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