Learning Outcomes

Understanding and setting goals for students.

On this page:

The importance of learning outcomes

Learning outcomes explain what students should be able to achieve by the end of a course. This may be changes in their knowledge, skills, attitude or behaviors. Learning outcomes are the first element to improve in course design because assessments and activities will subsequently align to these.

In some cases, learning outcomes are supplied by a department or program, in others, instructors are able to write or revise outcomes themselves. In both instances, the goal is to ensure that appropriate and high-quality outcomes will have benefits for academic programs, instructors and students.

  • Instructor: Determining and defining learning outcomes makes it easier to choose or align content and activities.
  • Students: Clear learning outcomes help students understand why and how specific activities will contribute to their understanding. Learning outcomes establish student expectations and increase motivation when students understand the reason for, and value of, what they are doing.

Improving learning outcomes

To improve learning outcomes, ensure that they are clear, well-written, and align with the assessment and activities you want students to do.

Step one: Ensure quality

Step two: Build variety

While the above resources may help ensure that a learning outcome is well written, they do not determine the content students should learn in your course. For example, an instructor’s goal may be for students to memorize roles and relationships in an ecosystem. Another might be to analyze the function of these roles, while another may be for students to reflect on their own roles and how they might affect change in their local ecosystem. While the content is the same, goals differ by complexity and focus.

There are several frameworks that attempt to categorize types of learning and the cognitive complexity of activities, but these ultimately rely on the instructor to make choices. Overall, it is best to use a variety of outcomes based on your goals for students and their current ability level. The following frameworks will help you better understand the complexity and focus of your learning outcomes and provide further options for you to consider.

Writing learning outcomes

Step 1:
Review and choose one or more of the above-mentioned taxonomies.

Step 2:
Using the course planning sheet draft your learning outcomes following the structure and characteristics of quality outcomes listed above. If you already have learning outcomes, ensure that they follow the same structure and quality.

Step 3:
Identify the specific level within Bloom’s, Fink’s or another taxonomy. Determine if you have an appropriate variety of cognitive complexity or outcome categories, and that these align to your instructional goals.

Step 4:
Evaluate your learning outcomes using the Learning Outcomes Rubric to ensure quality.

Next steps

Now that you have drafted learning outcomes, the next step is determine assessments to measure student achievement.