Course Learning Outcomes

Course-level Learning Outcomes

What are Learning Outcomes?

  • Learning outcomes are measurable statements that concretely formally state what students are expected to learn in a course.
  • While goals or objectives can be written more broadly, learning outcomes describe specifically how learners will achieve the goals.
  • Rather than listing all of the detailed categories of learning that is expected, learning outcomes focus on the overarching takeaways from the course (5-10 learning outcomes are generally recommended for a course; McCourt, 2007).

Why are Learning Outcomes Important?

Learning outcomes identify the specific knowledge and skills that one should be able to do at the end of the course.  Articulating outcomes – and communicating them clearly and understandably to learners – has benefits to both learners and educators.

  • Benefits to learners:
    • Identify what they should be able to do to be successful in the course
    • Decide if the course is the right fit for them and their goals (Setting Learning Outcomes, 2012)
    • Take ownership of their learning
    • Self-regulate their learning (Bembenutty, 2011)
  • Benefits to faculty/instructor:
    • Facilitate selection of course content, and design of assessments and activities
    • Transparency with learners on course expectations and end goal
    • Align level of mastery expected for the course with program and university goals

How to Write a Good Course Learning Outcome

Below are some tips for developing and writing your course outcome statements.

  • When composing learning outcomes, there is flexibility in the sentence structure. Some common stems are:
    • At the end of the course, learners should be able to….
    • Upon completion of this course, learners will be able to…
    • Learners should be able to…
  • Learning outcomes should be observable and measurable so that you are able to evaluate whether learners have achieved the outcomes expected (McCourt, 2007). In other words, learning outcomes use action verbs to describe what it looks like when learners achieve the learning outcomes.
    • Avoid using passive verbs such as demonstrate, learn, comprehendunderstand, or For example, because understanding happens entirely in the learners’ minds, it cannot be directly observed and therefore difficult to know when or if learners truly understand. Learning outcomes can be strengthened by more explicitly articulating what it looks like when learners understand.  A more explicit outcome statement using action verbs might be:
      • Learners should be able to compare and contrast US political ideologies regarding social and environmental issues.
      • Learners should be able to develop solutions for networking problems, balancing business concerns, privacy and technical issues.
  • Level of Mastery: Bloom’s Taxonomy can be a useful guide to identify action verbs (Anderson Krathwohl, 2001). This taxonomy, which groups action verbs by complexity of thinking, can help calibrate the outcomes to the level of mastery expected of the learners.  For example,
    • Remembering:  Learners should be able to recall nutritional guidelines for planning meals.
    • Understanding:  Learners should be able to explain the importance and impact of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and food service policies and regulations specific to food safety.
    • Applying: Learners should be able to apply safety principles related to food, consumers and personnel in quality management situations.
    • Analyzing: Students should be able to analyze data and differentiate nutrient deficiencies and toxicities.
    • Evaluating: Learners should be able to recommend a meal plan based on background information to someone wishing to maintain or lose weight and defend why one meal plan is better than others.
    • Creating: Learners should be able to integrate knowledge of metabolism, nutrition, and chronic disease to formulate nutritional therapy for patients with chronic disease.

Depending on the expectations of a learning outcome, a single action verb could require varying levels of complexity.  For that reason, you may notice a verb is listed in multiple columns below.

REVISED Bloom’s Taxonomy Action Verbs

 I. RememberingII. Understanding III. Applying IV. Analyzing V. Evaluating VI. Creating
Exhibit memory of previously learned material by recalling facts, terms, basic concepts, and answers Demonstrate understanding of facts and ideas by organizing, comparing, interpreting, giving descriptions, and stating main ideas. Solve problems to new situations by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques and rules in a different way. Examine and break information into parts by identifying motives or causes. Make inferences and find evidence to support generalizations. Present and defend opinions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas, or quality of work based on a set of criteria. Compile information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing new solutions.
  • define
  • describe
  • duplicate
  • enumerate
  • examine
  • identify
  • label
  • list
  • locate
  • match
  • memorize
  • name
  • observe
  • omit
  • quote
  • read
  • recall
  • recite
  • recognize
  • record
  • repeat
  • reproduce
  • retell
  • select
  • state
  • tabulate
  • tell
  • visualize
  • ask
  • associate
  • cite
  • classify
  • compare
  • contrast
  • convert
  • describe
  • differentiate
  • discover
  • discuss
  • distinguish
  • estimate
  • explain
  • express
  • extend
  • generalize
  • give examples
  • group
  • identify
  • illustrate
  • indicate
  • infer
  • interpret
  • judge
  • observe
  • order
  • paraphrase
  • predict
  • relate
  • report
  • represent
  • research
  • restate
  • review
  • rewrite
  • select
  • show
  • summarize
  • trace
  • transform
  • translate
  • act
  • administer
  • apply
  • articulate
  • calculate
  • change
  • chart
  • choose
  • collect
  • complete
  • compute
  • construct
  • determine
  • develop
  • discover
  • dramatize
  • employ
  • establish
  • examine
  • experiment
  • explain
  • illustrate
  • interpret
  • judge
  • manipulate
  • modify
  • operate
  • practice
  • predict
  • prepare
  • produce
  • record
  • relate
  • report
  • schedule
  • simulate
  • sketch
  • solve
  • teach
  • transfer
  • write
  • advertise
  • analyze
  • appraise
  • calculate
  • categorize
  • classify
  • compare
  • conclude
  • connect
  • contrast
  • correlate
  • criticize
  • deduce
  • devise
  • diagram
  • differentiate
  • discriminate
  • dissect
  • distinguish
  • divide
  • estimate
  • evaluate
  • experiment
  • explain
  • focus
  • illustrate
  • infer
  • order
  • organize
  • plan
  • prioritize
  • select
  • separate
  • subdivide
  • survey
  • test
  • appraise
  • argue
  • assess
  • choose
  • compare
  • conclude
  • consider
  • convince
  • criticize
  • critique
  • debate
  • decide
  • defend
  • discriminate
  • distinguish
  • editorialize
  • estimate
  • evaluate
  • find errors
  • grade
  • judge
  • justify
  • measure
  • order
  • persuade
  • predict
  • rank
  • rate
  • recommend
  • reframe
  • score
  • select
  • summarize
  • support
  • test
  • weigh
  • adapt
  • anticipate
  • assemble
  • collaborate
  • combine
  • compile
  • compose
  • construct
  • create
  • design
  • develop
  • devise
  • express
  • facilitate
  • formulate
  • generalize
  • hypothesize
  • infer
  • integrate
  • intervene
  • invent
  • justify
  • manage
  • modify
  • negotiate
  • originate
  • plan
  • prepare
  • produce
  • propose
  • rearrange
  • reorganize
  • report
  • revise
  • rewrite
  • role-play
  • simulate
  • solve
  • speculate
  • structure
  • test
  • validate
  • write

Adapted from Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing, Abridged Edition. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Good Practices

Transparency

Learning outcomes should be shared with learners for the purposes of transparency and expectation setting (Cuevas & Mativeev, 2010).  Doing so makes the benchmarks for learning explicit and helps learners make connections across different elements within the course.  Consider including course learning outcomes in your syllabus, so that learners know what is expected of them by the end of a course, and can refer to the outcomes throughout the course.  It is also good practice for educators to refer to learning outcomes at particular points during the course; for example, before introducing new concepts or asking learners to complete course activities and assignments.

Alignment within the Course

Since learning outcomes are statements about the key learning takeaways, they can be used to focus the assignments, activities, and materials within the course (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).  Providing feedback to students regarding their achievement of the learning outcome is important for both the learner (to understand and apply the feedback in the future) and to the educator (to see how learners are progressing in the course).

For example:
If a learning outcome is learners should be able to collaborate effectively on a team to create a marketing campaign for a product; then the course should: (1) intentionally teach learners effective ways to collaborate on a team and how to create a marketing campaign; (2) include activities that allow learners to practice and actively learn how to collaborate and create marketing campaigns; and (3) have assessments to provide feedback to the learners on the extent that they are meeting the course outcomes.

Alignment with Program

While course alignment within a program is usually strategically integrated at the programmatic level, it is good practice when developing your course learning outcomes to think about how the course contributes to your program’s mission/goals.  Explicitly sharing this alignment with learners may help motivate learners and provide more context, significance, and/or impact for the learning (Cuevas, Matveevm & Miller, 2010).

For example, familiarizing yourself with the possible program sequences helps you understand the knowledge and skills learners are bringing into your course and the level and type of mastery they may need for future courses and experiences.  Another example can be to ensure that a course with NUPath attributes addresses the associated outcomes.   Doing so ensures that learners are achieving the breadth of learning expected for the bachelor’s degree at NU.

Revisit Learning Outcomes

Assessment is an iterative process and it is good practice to revisit your learning outcome statements regularly – particularly as you change the way the course is being taught and/or the content of your course (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

Consider Involving Your Learners

Depending on your course and the flexibility of your course structure and/or progression, some educators will spend the first day of the course working with learners to craft or edit learning outcomes together.  This practice of giving learners an informed voice often leads to increased motivation and ownership of the learning.

To support you and your teaching, consider giving learners the chance to provide you with feedback on whether and how the outcomes have been achieved.  Doing so can inform how you teach the rest of the course or future iterations of the course.

Example Course Learning Outcomes

Arts, Media, and Design

  • Discriminate among different Western music styles.
  • Discuss how the historical and cultural events contextualize the creation of an artwork.

Business

  • Compare and contrast different types of business ownership.
  • Evaluate and classify various marketing strategies.

Computer and Information Sciences

  • Describe the scientific method and provide an example of its application.
  • Develop solutions for security, balancing technical and privacy issues as well as business concerns.

Engineering

  • Prepare engineering documents that coherently present information for technical and non-technical audiences.
  • Compile and summarize current bioengineering research to discuss the social, environmental, and legal impacts.

Health Sciences

  • Describe how nutrition and life style choices impact the life cycle.
  • Assess gross muscle strength of upper and lower extremities when assisting a patient in ambulation.

Science

  • Distinguish between healthy and unhealthy physical, mental, and emotional patterns.
  • Calculate germination rates of various seeds.
  • Describe and apply research methods to study child psychology.
  • Select appropriate mathematical routines to solve problems.
  • Create and interpret molecular models and/or chemical computations.

Social Sciences and Humanities

  • Outline the structure of the Constitution of the United States.
  • Formulate a stance on a political issue and support the position.

SAIL

  • Explain and justify a financial budget.
  • Solve simple linear algebra equations.
  • Communicate effectively with peers in a one-on-one setting.
  • Create a solution to a specific traffic problem presented by the City of Boston.

Diversity

  • Describe contributions made by individuals from diverse groups to the local Boston community.
  • Identify and describe how one’s own perspectives, experiences, and background influences the interactions with others when working on a team.
  • Identify systematic barriers to inclusivity in a given situation, and describe the impact power and privilege may have on individuals in the context of the situation.

NUPath

  • Formulate a question about pollution that could be investigated through research or design.
  • Describe the moral and ethical elements of body cameras on police officers.

*Some learning outcome examples are from McCourt, 2007.

 

References

Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A Taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.

Bembenutty, H. (2011). Self-regulation of learning in postsecondary education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 126, 3-8.

Cuevas, N. M., Matveev, A. G., & Miller, K. O. (2010). Mapping general education outcomes in the major: Intentionality and transparency. Peer Review, 12(1), 10-15.

Setting Learning Outcomes. Center for Teaching Excellence at Cornell University (2012).

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overviewTheory into practice41(4), 212-218.

McCourt, Millis, B. J., (2007). Writing and Assessing Course-Level Student Learning Outcomes. Office of Planning and Assessment at the Texas Tech University.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design (Expanded). Alexandria, US: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD).