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In brief:

Learning Outcomes are:

  • statements that describe what a student can do with their learning;
  • statements that use observable and measurable verbs to describe student learning;
  • statements that help determine teaching approaches and course assignments that will help students learn;
  • statements that indicate what you should assess to measure student learning.

Learning Outcomes are statements that describe specific knowledge, skills, attitudes, etc. that students should acquire and be able to demonstrate by the end of an assignment, a class, a chapter, a course or a program.

While they are also referred to as learning objectives or learning goals, in this course, we refer to them as learning outcomes which are student-focused and student-friendly.

Learning Outcomes focus on student behavior and denote how depth of learning can be demonstrated, while teaching objectives typically focus more on the content or ideas the teacher intends to present.

Because they are student-focused statements, they help students understand what knowledge and which skills and values are important, and how that knowledge and those skills and values will be useful for them.

To be effective, learning outcomes should describe observable and measurable behavior that demonstrates the learning and that can be assessed.

To be observable and measurable, learning outcomes must be constructed using verbs that describe what the student can do (eg: calculate, describe, compare, analyse, etc.). Verbs like ‘appreciate, understand, know’ are NOT observable nor measurable.

Because they describe observable and measurable behaviour, learning outcomes help professors select the content to include, and exclude, from a course, and become the basis for selecting learning activities and assessments. In short, the course content, the learning activities, and the evaluations should all align with the learning outcomes.

Verbs to avoid:
understand, recognize, know, appreciate…

Phrases to avoid:
conscious of, awareness of, familiar with, interested in…

Learning Outcome Examples

Here are examples of learning outcomes in six different disciplines:

  • Identify the impact of Information and Communication technologies in business operations;
  • Apply analytical skills, relevant theory and logical thought to the decision making processes within a business.
  • Design a system, component or process that responds effectively and creatively to an engineering problem;
  • Prepare technical documents that communicate with precision and clarity for a technical and non-technical audience.
  • Critically evaluate historical fine art forms as they relate to the social needs and influences of the time period;
  • Analyze the personal and cultural forces that have shaped the arts over the last 100 years.
  • Compare and contrast diverse philosophies and cultures within and across societies;
  • Investigate the variety of human culture and discuss significant ways in which cultures have changed.
  • Describe the methods scientists use to explore and evaluate natural phenomena;
  • Acquire and analyze scientific data through laboratory experiences.
  • Connect personal problems and troubles of everyday life to broader social problems;
  • Discuss the impact of culture, politics, and social structure on behavior and styles of communication.

Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes

It is likely that your learning outcomes will go beyond content knowledge and discipline-related skills to include important and relevant personal values and characteristics. The distinction is sometimes characterized as cognitive skills (knowledge and skills) and affective skills (long-term values and attitudes). The cognitive skills will be typically what students can demonstrate of their competency in a discipline while the affective skills will determine how well they can manage themselves and interact with peers and eventually colleagues. Below are examples of learning outcomes in each of these areas.

Knowledge-based Learning Outcomes

  • By the end of this course, students will be able to identify key strategies in business communications.
  • By the end of this course, students will be able to describe historically significant geological events and their impact on modern society.

Skills-based Learning Outcomes

  • By the end of this course, students will be able to conduct a statistical analysis using data gathered to answer a research question or hypothesis.
  • By the end of this course, students will be able to create an artistic work that represents a specific feature of current or historical local culture.

Cognitive Skills relate to knowledge and abilities that are generally easier to teach and measure.

Affective Skills relate to social and emotional competencies that are generally difficult to teach and measure.
They may be more or less important to your course outcomes, but are definitely important for your students’ professional future.

Attitude-based Learning Outcomes

  • By the end of this course, students will be able to work collaboratively to complete a project.
  • By the end of this course, students will be able to critically examine their position on a current social issue.

The next section will:

  • explain why learning outcomes are important for course design.

Further Resources   

For more information on the approach to teaching focussed on learning outcomes, please consult: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED430611.pdf