What They Are
Learning outcomes, often called "learning objectives," are statements that describe desired student learning as the result of participation in a course or program. Learning outcomes define
- the type of knowledge students will gain (see the 2001 revision of Bloom's taxonomy to the right)
- a means for the instructor to assess student learning success
Why They Are Important
Selecting learning outcomes is an important step in course development
Once you define what students need to know and how they will demonstrate their knowledge, you will be able to select the resources and activities that will lead to successful learning. By starting with the results you are striving for, you can step backwards through the planning process to ensure that your course or program has the components that will achieve your desired student outcomes.
Clearly defined learning outcomes are necessary to accurately assess student success
Once you define the results of your teaching: what students need to know and how they will demonstrate their knowledge, you are able build assessment activities that directly measure student success.
Learning outcomes communicate to students what they can expect.
When syllabi and course materials display a short list of well crafted learning outcomes, students are better able to 1) decide if a course is right for them, 2) recognize the connection between course activities and their learning.
Types of Learning
Bloom's taxonomy offers a framework for thinking about knowledge and learning. What do you want your students to be able to do with your course content? Do you want them to recall facts (Remembering)? Do you want them to be able to solve an unfamiliar problem (Creating)?
In an introductory class you may want students to Remember (ex. recall dates, formulas etc.) and Understand (ex. describe theories, defining vocabulary, etc.). In more advanced courses (or by the end of an introductory course), you will have higher expectations of your students. You may want them to be able to relate course content to their life experience (Applying) or make judgements based on presented data (Evaluate).
By identifying the type of knowledge you want students to have, you will be able to select resources and activities that support learning. Likewise you will be able to select assessment activities that measure the learning type. True/false, multiple choice and essay questions are often effective to measure Remembering and Understanding. Essays, case studies, projects and papers are often used for assessing higher order learning.
The Structure of a Well Written Learning Outcome
Written learning outcomes that appear on syllabi and on course pages:
- define key course learning.
- describe what a student will be able to do to demonstrate their knowledge.
Learning outcomes statements often follow the following structure Audience, Behavior, Condition, Degree of proficiency.
Ex. Students will compare and contrast opposing positions in the death penalty debate, in writing, and providing legal precedents for each.
In the learning outcome shown above, the ABCD components are: Students (Audience) will compare and contrast positions (Behavior), in a writing assignment (Ccondition), providing legal precendents (Degree of proficiency).
A - Since learning outcomes always refer to your students, Audience may appear only once above a bulleted list of outcome or may be inferred.
B - The Behavior refers to an outward demonstration of learning. A behavior or action that is observable and measurable. Here is a list of measurable action verbs related to each type of knowing in Blooms taxonomy.
C - Condition refers to the context in which B will ocur: Examples may include: "When presented with a case study," "On a multiple choice test," "Orally," "In writing," "Before a panel of judges"....
D - Degree of proficiency refers to the criteria for success. This may be detailed in the outcome, or may be shown elsewhere in the course materials such as in grading criteria / rubrics.
Learning Outcome Resources
Objective Builder Tool: an interactive tool from the University of Central Florida, Center for Distributed Learning
Bloom Taxonomy Verbs: This one page slide give examples of Verbs associated with each type of knowing in Blooms taxonomy and sample outcomes. (originally attributed to defunct site: chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/col/cogsys/bloom.html
Common Pitfalls to Avoid
Pitfall - Learning outcomes are not measurable
Avoid words like Know, Think, Understand. These words represent internal states that are not directly observable or measurable. Use words that represent actions or behaviors that demonstrate what the student knows, thinks, understands, remembers.
Pitfall - Learning outcomes describe the steps taken to get to the outcome.
Avoid describing what the students will do in the learning process. The statement: "Students will read peer reviewed articles on the death penalty," describes a learning activity rather than the outcome. A learning outcome could be Students will
Pitfall Learning outcomes are about the program, course or instructor.
Avoid statements that refer to what the course or instructor will achieve. The statement: "This course will provide an overview of legal arguments in the death penalty debate" is useful course description but it is not a learning outcome.