Quick Tips for Writing Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes are statements that describe or list measurable and essential mastered content knowledge. These statements reflect skills, competencies, and knowledge that students will have acquired and will be able to demonstrate after completing the course.

Getting Started:

  1. List all assessments that you use in the course (exams, projects, quizzes, team work, homework assignments, lab procedures, etc.).
  2. Consider each assessment as a measurement of student learning, and note for each:
    • Why did I choose this assessment measure (exam, quiz, project, homework)?
    • What skills do students demonstrate in this graded assessment?
  3. Think about your students. Suppose they take the course and complete it successfully. By the end of the semester they will be able to demonstrate skills, competencies, and procedural knowledge. Just what skills, competencies, and procedural knowledge will they be able to demonstrate? Make a list. The list should name the very things you measure with assessment. These assessment-measured skills are in fact the Learning Outcomes your students must demonstrate to complete the course successfully.
  4. Derive sentences from notes made in 1-3 (above) that describe attained skills, competencies, and abilities. In each sentence the subject will be the student, and the verb will be the descriptor of the knowledge, ability, skill, behavior, etc., that the student will demonstrate through the each assessment. In Learning Outcome sentences, a good rule of thumb is NOT to use (because they are not directly measurable) verbs such as remember, understand, learn, appreciate, like, believe, know, feel comfortable, have an idea about…, etc.

Examples

  • Students will be able to compare & contrast in writing theory X and theory Y.
  • Students will be able to write in scientific language about important questions in XYZ.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate critical thinking and create solutions to problems based on learned content.
  • Students will recall the content and make inferences on key important points.
  • Students will be able to select correct interpretations and solutions to conceptual problems.
  • Students will be able to present a topic of study in a field-specific language.
  • Students will demonstrate teamwork skills.
  • Students will demonstrate ability to critique, present, and show applications of research in the field as presented through articles published in professional journals.

List these derived sentences in the new syllabus under the heading Learning Outcomes. The Learning Outcomes and the Assessments used in each course should always match. That is: Leave no Learning Outcome unassessed. Assess only Learning Outcomes.

Some Guidelines for Writing Learning Outcomes

  • 4 to 8 succinct sentences are reasonable for a course or program.
  • Use active verbs that show measureable performance.
  • Be sure that you can measure the outcomes you set.
  • Write the sentences in a language that students (and those outside the field) will be able to understand.
  • Usually Learning Outcomes are not content-specific. That is, learning outcomes do not describe the topics/content the students will study in the course, but the skills students will demonstrate after successfully completing the course.
  • Learning Outcomes should focus on the overarching concepts, skills, abilities, behaviors, or attitudes that students will present at the end of the course.
  • Most importantly, Learning Outcomes must be measurable, assessable, and should imply assessment. However, Learning Outcomes should not be so specific to preclude flexibility, in the event different instructors teach sections of the same course. Learning Outcomes should be the same, despite differing teaching methods and assessment types from one instructor to the other. In the end students should have the same skills on completing the course, regardless of instructor or assessments used.
  • A good starting point is Bloom’s Taxonomy as a guide in planning teaching and assessment to address all levels of thinking and knowledge.

Nota Bene

Grades represent the level at which students can demonstrate skills listed in the Learning Outcomes statements.

Grades measure the level of ability demonstrated by students across the semester. If a student completes the course with an A, it means the student has demonstrated all skills listed in the Learning Outcomes at an exemplary level. A student with a B has demonstrated the skills listed in the Learning Outcomes at a high, but less than exemplary, level. Grades speak to the level of attainment, not the number of learning outcomes attained. For example a course might have eight learning outcomes. The A-student demonstrates great skills on all learning outcomes. The B-student demonstrates lower skill levels on all Learning Outcomes or, possibly, mixed skill-levels on specific learning outcomes: great skills on 5 out of 8, but lower skill level on 3 learning outcomes.

Learning Outcomes detail what skills students should demonstrate once they successfully complete the course you teach.