Interesting piece the other week from some distant superprof about the importance to modern education of 'defined learning outcomes' - just another irritating twig on the thicket of bureaucracy which increasingly surrounds any attempt at education. When I was an undergraduate, my university suffered from what would now be considered a catastrophic shortage of course documentation. The first spasm of my history degree had the memorable syllabus: 'English history from the beginnings to 1330'. This was comparatively loquacious. Later chunks just had two dates. I did not encounter a booklist until I got to what was called the 'documents paper' in which you were explicitly expected to use only primary sources. Each of the choices offered had a booklist and I simply chose the smallest list. This was a mistake. The list went 'Costin and Watson: Documents on the Law and Working of the Constitution. The whole'. 'The whole' turned out to be two hardback volumes, designed not so much as doorstops as for a small role in Stonehenge. The only part of the course which had a textbook was a special subject on the Admiralty's part in the War of the Second Coalition (highlights: Nelson at the Nile and Napoleon at Marengo) and this was an accident. The book was very popular with students, less so with the people teaching the course. They intended at the first opportunity to restore its textbook-free status by changing to another war. The written description of the whole degree could be found in a little leaflet of the size you might find with a kitchen appliance. Well we have changed all that. Nowadays a serious degree course requires a slab of documentation on the scale of Messrs Costin and Watson's opus. Few teachers have read it all; fewer students have read any of it. Each segment of the degree offered must have objectives, content, modes of tuition, assessment methods and, of course, a booklist. The 'expected learning outcomes' are just another brick in the wall. Occasionally some kind-hearted administrator passes round helpful hints on how to provide the latest literary embellishment to your course document. The latest such offering comes from the University of Hertfordshire. This is not the place the bulls come from, that's Herefordshire. Still, there is clearly no shortage of bull in Hertfordshire. 'The quality of the course,' says the anonymous author confidently, 'will depend on the quality of its learning outcomes. Precise wording is crucial.' Having disabused those of us who supposed that the quality of the course might depend on the teaching inputs, the writer goes on to urge the use of active verbs in 'a statement of something capable of being demonstrated and therefore assessed'. This means in turn that 'words like 'know' and 'understand' should be avoided for learning outcomes because they are too vague'. Of course Hong Kong teachers will comply. We are a docile lot. If defined learning outcomes are demanded, then they will be produced. They will, however, do nothing for the quality of the education provided. This is firstly because this sort of evolution is like faith healing. It works only if you believe in it. More importantly it is because the whole approach is based on a fallacy. It captures everything except the things which matter. The purpose of education is to produce knowledge and understanding, even, in its more ambitious moments, wisdom. If these outcomes cannot be measured then so much the worse for the inquisitive idiot who wished to measure them. Learning is a transaction of the mind, the intellect and the spirit. It cannot be reduced a set of 'skills and attributes' to be measured out like groceries.