Defining learning outcomes

Use learning outcomes to tell students what they will know or be able to do by the end of your course. Writing learning outcomes also helps you define the scope and goals of your course.

Why define learning outcomes?

Communicating learning outcomes helps students to:

  • decide if the course is a good fit for their academic trajectory and interests
  • identify steps to take to succeed in the course
  • take ownership of their progress
  • be mindful of what they are learning

Clearly identified learning outcomes allow instructors to:

  • articulate their expectations and values for learning in their field
  • make firm decisions about selecting course content
  • design challenging, engaging learning activities that help students develop knowledge, skills, and behaviors
  • create assessments that effectively gauge student learning of the course material

For help with writing learning outcomes, please contact CTI for a consultation or explore our resources.

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Review & revise learning outcome statements

You may teach a course that already exists in the department and includes defined learning outcomes. Reach out to others in the department to learn more about the context for your course. For example: has the course been taught before? Is there an existing Canvas site for it? Is the course linked to other courses formally or informally (e.g., is it a prerequisite for other courses, or part of the major/minor curriculum?)?

If learning outcomes have already been established, use the following questions to review and revise them:

  • Do the learning outcomes clearly describe what a student will learn in terms of knowledge, skills, and values?
  • Are the learning outcomes observable and measurable?
  • How will you know if your students have achieved the outcomes?
  • Do they align with the outcomes of the program, unit, college, or a course sequence within a major? The Office of the Provost provides information on University-wide and college learning outcomes.
  • Ask colleagues and/or students to read your learning outcomes and provide feedback.

Selected resources

  • Course Design Institute (CTI)
  • Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition. Alexandria: ASCD.