Learning outcomes are descriptions of the abilities, skills and knowledge that are used for assessing student learning. Learning outcomes should outline what students possess and can demonstrate upon completion of a learning experience or set of experiences. When developing a list of student learning outcomes for educators to set as curriculum objectives to improve student learning, consider the following recommendations:

How to Build Student Learning Outcomes

Choose between 3-5 learning outcomes: You should choose a sufficient amount of learning outcomes to ensure student progress can be measured without becoming overly complicated for educators to assess. It is also worthwhile to point out that not all educational activities will assess all learning outcomes. Each educational activity can assess students’ development and comprehension focusing on 1-2 student learning objectives for each class. Less than 3 objectives likely mean that student learning objectives are not robust enough for an entire course.

Learning outcomes should be straightforward: The outcomes identified and described in your plan should be concise and simple. They should avoid complex phrasing or compound statements that mesh more than one statement together to communicate effectively. Each learning outcome should focus on the development of one skill or the meeting of one goal in order to be straightforward and ensure effective learning.

Learning outcomes should be expressed in the future tense: It is very important for the proper implementation of student learning outcomes that they are expressed in the future tense. The statement should express what an individual student should be able to do as the result of specific instruction or educational activity. Outcomes should involve active learning, and be observable so they can be quantified for examining key student success metrics through learning assessment. They should create and make use of information literacy skills.

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Learning outcomes should be realistic: In order to ensure student learning outcomes are successful, they must be attainable for the students for whom they are designated. Outcomes need to be designed with students’ ability, their initial skill sets, cognitive development and the length of the institutional time frame (a week, a semester, etc) designated to attain these skill sets in mind. Further, they should also align with the material for teaching to students.

Learning outcomes should align with the curriculum: The learning outcomes developed should be consistent with the curriculum objectives within the program and discipline in which they are taught. This is especially important when interpreting assessment results to analyze where changes in instruction should be made. Curriculum mapping is one example of an effective way to ensure that chosen learning outcomes correspond to the designated curriculum. A curriculum map is a diagram that explains which learning outcomes are plotted against specific program courses. This helps ensure that learning goals are reached in a timely manner.

Methods of Constructing Learning Outcomes

Implementing taxonomies: Taxonomies of learning experiences and student outcomes can be useful outlines for developing thorough and insightful lists of student outcomes. Taxonomies classify and compartmentalize the different types of student learning. Taxonomies usually follow a structure that divides learning into three categories. The first is the cognitive domain, which has six levels, ranging from the simple recall or recognition of facts, as the lowest level, up to increasingly more complex and abstract mental levels, followed by the highest order which is classified as evaluation. The second domain is the affective domain involves our feelings, emotions, and attitudes. This domain includes the ways in which humans deal with things emotionally, such as feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasm, motivations, and attitudes. The final domain is the psychomotor domain, which focuses refers to the motor skills learners are expected to have acquired and mastered at each stage of development.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956) is one traditional framework for structuring learning outcomes. Levels of performance for Bloom’s cognitive domain include knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These categories are arranged in ascending order of cognitive complexity where evaluation represents the highest level. There are six steps within Bloom’s Taxonomy to achieve learning outcomes. The first step is knowledge, which focuses on knowing and remembering important facts, concepts, terms, principles or theories. The second step is comprehension, which focuses on the understanding of specific learning concepts or curriculum objectives. The third step is application, which focuses on skills and knowledge applications to solve problems. The fourth step is analysis, which focuses on identifying different structures and organizations of specific concepts or subjects, identifying relationships and different moving elements within an organization. The fifth step is synthesis, which focuses on the creation and integration of new ideas into a solution, in order to propose an action plan and potentially formulate a new classification scheme by using critical thinking. The sixth and final step in Bloom’s Taxonomy is evaluation, which judges the quality of knowledge more broadly or a specific learning concept based on its adequacy, use, value or logic.

Using power verbs: When constructing learning outcomes, it is important to make use of concrete action words that are able to describe and quantify specific action that is observable and measurable.

Using a Curriculum Map: Once learning outcomes have been developed and approved, making use of a curriculum map can help in viewing how the outcomes developed are being met in each course at an institution. A curriculum map is a straightforward way to visualize the ways in which an educator or institution can list learning outcomes in the rows and the program courses in the columns to demonstrate which courses contribute to each learning outcome. In each cell, letters can be placed to indicate how the course relates to the learning outcome. Use the letters “I,” “R,’ and “E” to identify which courses in the program “introduce”, “reinforce,” or “emphasize” the corresponding learning outcomes. By putting the curriculum maps into place, educators can watch for unnecessary redundancies, inconsistencies, misalignments, weaknesses, and gaps in their learning outcomes in order to optimize them for student success in their program review.

Measuring Student Learning Outcomes

Assessment of student learning outcomes: Assessment is a systematic and on-going way of collecting and interpreting information in order to analyze its effectiveness. The academic assessment process can also provide greater insight into how well learning outcomes relate and correspond to the goals and outcomes developed to support the institution’s mission and purpose. An ideal learning outcomes assessment process aims to answer the questions of what an institution is doing and how well it is doing it. Assessments begins with the expression of learning outcomes and course learning. The key to writing measurable outcomes involves describing the first three components: firstly analyzing the outcome, secondly, determining the method of assessment, Third, involves recognizing the criteria for success, as part of the student-centered assessment cycle.

Program and Performance outcomes: program and performance outcomes describe the goals of a program rather than focusing on what students should know, do or value at the end of a given time period. Program outcomes can be as one-dimensional and simple as a completion of a task or activity, although this is not as meaningful as it could be and does not provide the educator with enough information for improvement. To accomplish the latter, educators and department heads should try to assess the effectiveness of what a given program has set out to accomplish. Performance outcomes usually have quantitative targets and specific timelines.