1. Why use learning outcomes?
  2. How to write a learning outcome
    1. How do I choose specific content/value/attitude/behaviour
    2. Bloom’s Hierarchy of Learning
    3. Action words by level and domain
  3. Evaluating your written learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are statements that describe the knowledge, skills and attitudes students are expected to develop in your course. For each class you teach, you will want to come up with 3-4 learning outcomes that summarize the overarching expectations of that lesson.

In this way, learning outcomes are central components of your weekly planning and overall course design, which say to students, “I designed the lessons and activities in this course to help you develop these skills or bodies of knowledge. If you do the work and take feedback into account, you will become more practiced at these things. To pass this class, you must illustrate that you have developed these skills.”

Why use learning outcomes?

First, constructing and sharing learning outcomes helps to communicate with students what you expect of them – this is fair to students, helps to avoid misunderstandings, and gives a shared reference point should problems arise with regards to course expectations.

Second, explicit learning outcomes set a (high) minimum standard for students to work to meet or exceed.

Finally, thinking through and articulating your course activities, assessments and content helps to ensure that they are aligned in a coherent way; in essence, learning outcomes are the blueprints of course design!

How to write a learning outcome

  1. Start with stem
  2. Choose appropriate level and domain in Bloom’s Hierarchy of Learning (see below)
  3. Add an ACTION WORD which corresponds with the chosen level and domain (see the table below)
  4. Add specific content/value/attitude/behaviour

For example:

  • By the end of this class, students will be able to…
  • By the end of this class, students should be able to…
  • In order to pass this course, students must demonstrate the ability to…
  1. DISTINGUISH between Bloom’s domains of learning.
  2. APPLY Bloom’s taxonomy to write a course-level learning outcome.
  3. ASSESS course learning outcomes against degree level expectations.
  4. DESIGN learning activities appropriate for meeting learning outcomes.
  5. DEVELOP methods to evaluate student achievement of learning outcomes.
  6. INTEGRATE learning outcomes into all courses taught.

How do I choose specific content/value/attitude/behaviour

Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of my course in relation to students’ program of study?
  • What is the relationship of this course to other courses (e.g. is it a prerequisite or an elective?)
  • At which level in each learning domain (see the hierarchy of learning below) can I expect students to perform?
  • How much and what can I expect students to learn in this course?
  • What are the most important things students must demonstrate to pass this course?
    • Your responses to this question help define your learning outcomes, so to help you refine your responses, consider the following probing questions:
      • Would I pass a student who cannot demonstrate this course-related attribute? If your response to this question is yes, revise the learning outcome.
      • Can I expect this outcome of all registered students, regardless of background knowledge, cultural background, or other variable characteristics? If your response to this question is no, revise the learning outcome.

Bloom’s Hierarchy of Learning

Level of Learning Cognitive Domain Psychomotor Domain Affective Domain

Higher order skills

Lower order skills

Creating: combines elements to develop new models/ideas Coaching: provides instructions to others to perform task Characterizing: integrates and behaves in line with values in new contexts
Evaluating: assesses effectiveness, coherence & rationale and makes strategic judgments Applying: adapts criteria with no instruction to perform task and evaluates performance in new contexts Organizing: prioritizes values and resolves internal/personal conflict
Analyzing: identifies key assumptions & internal relationships; infers main principles; structures information Developing Standards: identifies criteria for optimal task performance Valuing: displays attachment, involvement & commitment in class context/assignments
Applying: relates information to new contexts Modeling: reproduces task based on instruction or memory Responding: changes behavior to reflect attitude; actively reacts to or participates in new attitude
Understanding: knows meaning of & interprets or translates information Observing: uses sensory cues to guide or define appropriate action Receiving: becomes open to potential value of a particular attitude
Remembering: recognizes or recalls facts, details & information

Action words by level and domain

Cognitive Domain Psychomotor Domain Affective Domain
Level Verb Level Verb Level Verb
Creating assemble, build, design, develop, formulate, generate, hypothesize, invent, modify Coaching assess, assist, correct, demonstrate, illustrate, instruct, manage, specify Characterizing act, display, embody, influence, plan, practice, propose, represent, solve, validate
Evaluating appraise, assess, compare, conclude, critique, defend, justify, review, recommend Applying adapt, assess, build, calibrate, coordinate, design, infer, manipulate, modify, produce, solve Organizing alter, adjust, arrange, compare, develop, generalize, integrate, modify, order, reconcile, rank
Analyzing break down, compare, contrast, differentiate, dissect, extrapolate, investigate, separate Developing standards compose, distinguish, formulate, integrate, judge, perceive, select, synthesize Valuing adapt, balance, challenge, critique, confront, defend, initiate, invite, justify, persuade, seek
Applying calculate, compute, demonstrate, discover, execute, extrapolate, implement, manipulate, predict, show Modeling copy, display, follow, execute, mimic, recreate, reenact, repeat, reproduce Responding behave, clarify, comply, cooperate, examine, explain, model, practice, present, recite, report
Understanding convert, describe, explain, interpret, infer, illustrate, paraphrase, translate Observing adhere, choose, copy, detect, follow, identify, observe, relate, repeat Receiving acknowledge, accept, ask, attend, describe, observe, read, recognize
Remembering define, identify, label, list, match, recall, recite, recognize, state

Evaluating your written learning outcomes

You can use the checklist below to evaluate your learning outcomes for clarity and specificity. Are your learning outcomes:

  • Specific in terms of the skill/value/content
  • Measurable and demonstrable
  • Attainable by students at current level and matched to purpose of course
  • Relevant for students, course, program, degree
  • Timed appropriately for class length

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