General Ideas on Learning Outcomes

Questions to ask before writing Learning Outcomes:

  • What will my students know?
  • What will the students be able to do with their knowledge at the end of the course?
  • What are the students beliefs, opinions, and attitudes?

Well-designed course assessment provides feedback on intended Learning Outcomes. Feedback students receive from assessments should deal directly with the learning to be acquired. Assessment results in feedback that learners can use not only to know how they are doing, but also to understand how they might improve their performance.

Using learning outcomes will provide information on what students are expected to achieve at the end of the course, and after each class period. The intended Learning Outcomes of a course should always be included in course syllabi at the beginning of the course.

Note: For larger courses where 3-4 instructors teach the same course, there should be a common list of Learning Outcomes for the course. To that list the individual instructor might add specific outcomes in the event he or she would like to measure specific skills. All sections of a course should prepare students to demonstrate, by the end of semester, the same set of skills stated in the Learning Outcomes.

Formulating Effective Statements of Intended Learning Outcomes

Characteristics of Effective Learning Outcomes Statements

  • Student-focused rather than professor–focused
  • Focus on the learning resulting from the activity rather than on the activity itself
  • Reflect the program, school, and Institute mission
  • Alignment at the course, program, department, school, and Institute levels
  • Focus on important aspects of learning
  • Focus on skills and abilities central to the discipline and based on professional standards of excellence
  • General enough to capture important learning skills; specific enough to be measurable
  • Focus on aspects of learning that provide lifelong learning skills but that can be assessed in some form now

Several Examples from Different Domains

Students will:

  • Organize ideas in a way that increases the effectiveness of a message
  • Work effectively in problem-solving teams
  • Develop an erosion-control policy based on plant, soil, water, and climate principles
  • Be able to communicate their message to others in written, verbal, and artistic medium
  • Reason using simplified economic models such as supply and demand, marginal analysis, benefit-cost analysis, and comparative advantage
  • Be able to design and conduct original and independent biological research
  • As team members will reveal their commitment to the team through effective use of group problem-solving techniques

Note: Learning Outcomes should focus on the learning resulting from an activity not on the activity itself! Learning Outcomes should focus on important aspects of learning that are credible and valuable to the discipline and field.

Learning Outcomes that Promote Lifelong Learning

  1. Complex Thinking Standards: students' ability to use various reasoning strategies to deal with situations
  2. Information Processing: information-gathering techniques, interpreting and analyzing, assessing the information, interpreting and synthesizing
  3. Effective communication with diverse audiences in a variety of ways for different purposes
  4. Collaboration and cooperation to complete an effective performance in group situations, using interpersonal skills
  5. Habits of Mind: students’ ability to control their own thought process and behavior including self-regulation, critical thinking, and creative thinking

Learning Outcomes in Practice

  1. Write measurable objectives for learning outcomes.
  2. Write learning outcomes assessments that measure the level of knowledge, skills, and competencies the students master in the course.
  3. Document Learning Outcomes results with a comparison of outcomes and objectives, that will be the base for further changes in the education process.

Huba, E. M., & Freed, J. E. (2000). Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon