Though they are sometimes overlooked, learning outcomes are foundational to course design. They communicate what learners should be able to do by the end of the course and, thus, all components of the course should be in support of these statements. It is important to carefully review each of your course learning outcomes in order to consider if the teaching and learning activities you are facilitating, in addition to the assessment and evaluation methods you have selected will be relevant. One of the key challenges that can be faced in making decisions regarding how you will assess whether students have achieved what they should by the end of a course are poorly written (i.e. vague, overly complicated or unrealistic) learning outcomes.
Elements of a Learning Outcome
There are a few basic parts of an effective learning outcome. The first is the stem (examples: 'By the end of this course, you will be able to...' or 'By the end of this session, you should be able to demonstrate the ability to...'). Following the stem should be the action verb (examples: 'write,' 'compare', 'identify', 'evaluate', etcetera). Lastly, any additional details that clarify the extent to which students should be able to achieve this outcome and any specific conditions under which they should be able to do this (using a particular resource, method or in a particular setting, as examples) should be included.
There a number of mnemonics that are used to remember the elements of effective learning outcomes. SMART, for example, stands for Specific, Measurable, Realistic and Time-bound. Another useful mnemonic is ABCD which stands for Audience, Behaviour, Condition and Degree.
The Basic Structure
By the end of this [course, session, workshop, class, activity, etcetera], you should be able to:
- [1 action verb] + [specific details describing what the learner will do]
Example: 'By the end of this module, you should be able to write at least three learning outcomes for your own course using the ABCD method for writing learning outcomes.'
Tips for Writing and Revising Learning Outcomes
Below are tips to consider when developing or updating learning outcomes. These tips are also included in the Certificate in University Teaching module on learning outcomes offered through the Teaching and Learning Centre.
- Use action verbs
- Avoid passive verbs that are difficult to measure (examples: understand, know, learn, become familiar with...)
- Use learner-focused language (example: 'By the end of this course, you will be able to...')
- Aim for only one verb per outcome
- Be very clear; refrain from using figures of speech
- Include only relevant outcomes that will be assessed
- Give your list to a colleague to provide feedback
The Revised Bloom's Taxonomy
Choosing the appropriate verbs to use in learning outcomes can be challenging. Anderson and Krathwohl's Revised Bloom's Taxonomy organizes outcomes into three domains -- cognitive, psychomotor and affective --- and from lower order skills to higher order skills. It is important to be aware of the types of learning outcomes that you have in your course. The majority of learning outcomes included on course outlines will fall within the cognitive domain, though you may have some learning outcomes in the other domains, depending on the nature of your course. It is recommended to consult a Bloom's Taxonomy verb chart order to select verbs that articulate the specific types of skills that should be developed by the end of the course.
We can Help
You may not have the opportunity to create the learning outcomes for a course you will teach. If you have questions about whether outcomes can be updated to be made more clear, however, please contact the TLC or your Program Director. If you are in the process of developing learning outcomes for a new course, you may be interested in meeting with an educational developer from the TLC who can provide feedback and resources.