Setting Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are measurable statements that articulate at the beginning what students should know, be able to do, or value as a result of taking a course or completing a program (also called Backwards Course Design). Learning outcomes often take this form:

  • As a result of participating in (program/course name), you (students) will be able to (action verb) (learning statement).

Use your learning outcomes as a tool. Let them inform your choice of teaching strategies, course activities, and assessments.

Why Define Learning Outcomes?

Clearly identified learning outcomes allow instructors to:

  • Make hard decisions about selecting course content.
  • Design assessments that allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
  • Design teaching strategies or learning activities that will help students develop their knowledge and skills.
  • Measure student learning accurately and effectively.

Having access to articulated learning outcomes (in a syllabus, for example) helps students:

  • Decide if the course is a good fit for their academic trajectory.
  • Identify what they need to do to be successful in the course.
  • Take ownership of their progress.
  • Be mindful of what they are learning.

Considerations for Setting Learning Outcomes

Setting learning outcomes is the first step in a five-part process (Walvoord, 2010):

  1. Outcomes – What do we want students to be able to do after the course?
  2. Identify – Where in the curriculum are the outcomes addressed?
  3. Measures – How well are students achieving the outcomes?
  4. Revision – What changes can be made to the course to improve student achievement?
  5. Re-measure – Did the revision to the curriculum work?

Getting Started with Setting Learning Outcomes

  • Ask yourself what the most important things a student should know (cognitive), be able to do (skills), or value (affective) after completing the course/program.
  • Consult a list of action verbs, which are verbs that result in overt behavior or products that can be observed and measured. Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives provides some useful verbs to write objectives for different levels of learning. For more information see An Introduction to Bloom's Taxonomy from the University of West Florida.
  • Avoid verbs that are unclear and cannot be observed and measured easily, for example: appreciate, become aware of, become familiar with, know, learn, and understand.
  • Draft a list of possible learning outcomes. Be realistic in considering what is possible for students to accomplish in your course. Only keep the most essential learning outcomes.
  • Edit and review the outcomes using the Learning Outcome Review Checklist.

References

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, E. J., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. New York, NY: Longmans, Green and Co.

Walvoord, B. E. (2010). Assessment clear and simple: A practical guide for institutions, departments and general education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.