Learning outcomes are an essential component of topics and courses. They clarify for students the knowledge and skills they will (hopefully) have acquired by the end of their studies. The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) states: “The learning outcomes are constructed as a taxonomy of what graduates are expected to know, understand and be able to do as a result of learning. They are expressed in terms of the dimensions of knowledge, skills and the application of knowledge and skills” (AQF, 2013, p. 11).
Given their importance, it is vital to know how learning outcomes should be written.
Learning outcomes state “what a student will be able to do or demonstrate at the completion of a certain sequence of learning” or at the end of a topic. They “inform students of what is expected of them in terms of performance” so they can pass the topic and acquire the grades they desire (Popenici & Millar, 2015 p. 4).
Learning outcomes perform a number of functions. These include:
- describing what students should be able to do on completion of a topic
- linking expectations of what will be achieved in (aspects of) the topic, teaching and assessment
- assisting in planning (instruction, method of delivery and evaluation of learning) and in reviewing topics (it is useful to revisit them periodically)
- guiding learners
- providing an analysis of teaching.
There are set stems to learning outcomes. These relate to the purpose of the outcome, for example:
Course learning outcomes: On completion of this course you will be able to:
Major/minor learning outcomes: On completion students will be able to:
Topic learning outcomes: On completion of this topic you will be expected to be able to:
All topic learning outcomes should feed into course learning outcomes and support students to apply the knowledge and skills stated at the course outcome level. To determine whether students can meet the learning outcomes we use assessments. It is important, therefore, that learning outcomes are assessable, and we need to ensure we are teaching the knowledge and skills that address them.
When writing learning outcomes, it is important to use verbs which reflect the relevant thinking skills at the appropriate level. Most people rely on versions of Bloom’s Taxonomy to support this verb choice (see: https://www.virtuallibrary.info/blooms-taxonomy.html or https://tips.uark.edu/using-blooms-taxonomy/ for useful resources).
Ideally, most university topics reflect thinking skills included in levels linked to applying, analysing, synthesising or evaluating knowledge, with second- and third-year topics falling at the high end (synthesising or evaluating).
When writing learning outcomes, there are some commonly made errors. These include:
- Using verbs such as ‘know’ or ‘understand’
- Listing teaching objectives
- Listing topic content
- Too complex (using more than one verb and not relating to the context in which it applies)
- Not assessable or not linked to assessment tasks
- Too many listed (4 – 6 are sufficient)
The following checklist from the University of Melbourne, (Popenici & Millar, 2015 p. 11) should help you self-evaluate the learning outcomes you have written:
- are clearly stated, in clear and unambiguous language.
- clearly indicate what the students should learn.
- use one verb that is aligned to the level of the course/program.
- are all significant and meaningful in the long term.
- provide a guide for the development of learning activities, teaching and assessment.
- can be assessed effectively – you can envision assessment tasks able to achieve this.
- are aligned to the level of study, faculty and university strategic priorities and values.
Having your topic calibrated through the IRU Academic Calibration process is also a useful way to ensure that your learning outcomes are appropriate, align effectively with your assessments, and are benchmarked against topics offered elsewhere.
Council, A. Q. F. (2013). Australian Qualifications Framework Second Edition January 2013. Retrieved from https://www.aqf.edu.au/sites/aqf/files/aqf-2nd-edition-january-2013.pdf
Popenici, S., & Millar, V. (2015). Writing Learning Outcomes. A practical guide for academics. Retrieved from https://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/2296861/MCSHE-Learning-Outcomes-Guide-web-Nov2015.pdf
Written by Dr Ann Luzeckyj
Senior Academic Developer – CILT