Course Planning with Learning Outcomes

Writing Learning Outcomes for Course Planning and Syllabus Preparation

The syllabus is a planning tool. Writing it guides the instructor’s development of the course. The syllabus is a guide. Understanding it guides students’ engagement with the course it defines. The syllabus is a reference. Reading it informs colleagues, administrators, and accreditation agencies.

To work for all its users, the syllabus should communicate in a clear and detailed manner the course’s content, teaching approaches, requirements, expectations, and schedules—no mean feat, one requiring method.

Developing a syllabus methodically also improves the likelihood of finishing with clearly defined course goals and student Learning Outcomes, as well as coherent and appropriate assessment measures. This page outlines part of a workable method.

In the process of planning a course and drafting its syllabus, the instructor must decide which topics to cover and, for each topic, the expected level of learning that students will demonstrate. The instructor decides the topics in which students should demonstrate higher levels of thinking, and the instructor accordingly plans assessment measures focused on those topics. The end is a pairing of measurable learning outcomes, and assessments aimed at them—assessments that are attuned to the relative importance of the different topics taught by the instructor.

A very useful tool in planning for expected levels of teaching, learning, and assessment is Bloom’s (revised) taxonomy. Benjamin Bloom classified cognitive skills in six levels, from lower levels of thinking—remembering and understanding—to higher levels of thinking—applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Bloom’s taxonomy takes into account the learners’ thinking and knowledge-based abilities and it guides the instructor’s mapping out of plans for the course, providing an easy way to think about appropriate assessment tools.

When planning activities and assessment for course purposes the first step the instructor should take is to map out each topic to be studied in the course at the desired level of thinking and knowledge. The instructor’s next step is deriving the learning outcomes and matching assessment type for each topic.

Using Bloom's taxonomy in course and syllabus planning and writing learning outcomes may also assist in planning of assessment measures for a course with focus on student learning outcome achievement.

Courses with multiple sections taught by different instructors: All sections of a course should have a core of the same statements for Learning Outcomes. Additional Learning Outcome statements could be present in each section, if different instructors assess additional outcomes.