Understanding and setting goals for students.
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.
To improve learning outcomes, ensure that they are clear, well-written, and align with the assessment and activities you want students to do.
Learning outcomes characteristics:
Further, Fink recommends focusing on impact by asking yourself what your students will:
Learning outcomes structure: 3 parts
(do not need to include)
(start with verb)
Students will be able to...
I will be able to...
|Describe||characteristics of self-regulated learners|
|Speak||knowledgeably about a scientific research study|
|Explore||information related to infectious diseases|
|Synthesize||multiple articles to share information with others|
The following rubric, adapted from Nilson (2016), measures several of the characteristics listed above. You can use this before writing for further guidance, or after to ensure quality.
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.
The revised version of Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001) categorizes the cognitive complexity of tasks. These categories help determine the difficulty of learning outcomes, types you might want to use, and whether there is variety of complexity between outcomes.
Your goals for students, and your field often require more than just cognitive complexity. For example, a future doctor needs to know how to deliver information to patients, not just the information. This taxonomy categorizes other aspects of learning besides cognition such as caring, learning how to learn, and learning about yourself and others.
While Fink’s taxonomy builds on Bloom’s to include non-cognitive outcomes, other taxonomies have continued to address other goals faculty may have for students. Consider the following resources to better understand if these taxonomies align with your goals.
A brief overview of five alternative taxonomies.
Focuses on classifying learning outcomes by the quality of the task.
Steps towards creating more inclusive outcomes and language.
Review and choose one or more of the above-mentioned taxonomies.
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.
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.
Evaluate your learning outcomes using the Learning Outcomes Rubric to ensure quality.
Now that you have drafted learning outcomes, the next step is determine assessments to measure student achievement.
An explanation of the difference between course objectives and learning outcomes.
A four-step guide for writing learning outcomes.
Another guide for developing learning outcomes.
A history and explanation of the development of complexity in student learning and how researchers have improved frameworks.
For further information about learning outcomes see the following readings.