This page was designed to help you to write learning outcomes for your courses. After studying this page, you should be able to:
- Define course goals.
- Define learning outcomes.
- Define the categories (domains) of learning outcomes.
- Identify the levels within these categories.
- List the ALARMS criteria for effective learning outcomes.
- Explain why assessments have to be linked to learning outcomes.
- Discuss the preferred number of learning outcomes for a course.
- Use the checklist to write effective learning outcomes.
Defining your course goals
Course goals describe the course’s highest purpose. They focus on the big picture. They describe the course’s raison d’être.
Each course should have three to five course goals.
What are learning outcomes?
Learning outcomes specify what learners will be able to know, do and value after a learning experience. In other words, learning outcomes state the:
- skills, and
students will gain through your course. A course typically has 6-10 learning outcomes.
Learning outcomes begin with an action verb and describe something observable or measurable. For example:
After successfully completing the work in this Module, you should be able to:
- Use change theory to develop family-centered care within the context of nursing practice.
- Develop strategies that positively influence the tourist experience.
- Demonstrate the safe use of lab equipment.
Learning outcomes often represent discrete units of instruction in a course. However, learning outcomes need not be attained by specific instruction in a lesson, instead they may be woven throughout the course. For example, learning outcomes may include using certain problem solving techniques, working effectively in teams, or developing research abilities.
Note: For the purpose of our work here, we are using the words learning outcomes and learning objectives interchangeably.
Why are learning outcomes so important?
Learning outcomes are the most important feature of your course outline. In fact, they are the essence of your course because they:
- Define the type and depth of learning students are expected to achieve.
- Provide an objective benchmark for formative, summative, and prior learning assessment.
- Clearly communicate expectations to learners.
- Clearly communicate graduates’ skills to prospective employers.*
- Define coherent units of learning that can be further subdivided or modularized for classroom or for other delivery modes.
- Guide and organize the instructor and the learner.
When you are writing the outcomes, you will use only one action verb per outcome. For example, you would use two learning outcome statements for designing and testing an electric circuit:
- Design improved bias circuits using negative feedback.
- Test bias circuits using negative feedback.
* By reading your listed learning outcomes, an employer or professional in the field should be able to identify what knowledge, skills, and attitudes your students will be able to offer them after taking your course.
Why ALARMS make good learning outcomes
Learning outcomes are general statements of desired learning. They don’t describe actives but rather what the student is supposed to be able to know, do and stand for by the end of course, module or lesson. Powerful learning outcomes fulfill the following criteria.
Describe what you want learners to do.
Benjamin Bloom organized learning verbs into a useful taxonomy (see below).
|L||Learner-Centered||Write learning outcomes from the perspective of the student.|
|A||Attainable||Is this learning outcomes appropriate considering the skill level, time and other resources students have available?|
|R||Relevant & Results Oriented||Does it matter? Adult learners need to see real-life relevance in order for their learning to be optimal.|
|M||Measurable||How will I know students have accomplished this outcome? Always directly link your learning outcomes to your assessments.|
|S||Specific||Use precise language: Who, what, how, to what degree/quality, using what tools, by when.|
Learning Outcomes > Assessments > Learning Activities
In designing your course it is important that you follow these three steps:
1. Learning Outcomes: Design the learning outcomes for your course.
2. Assessments: Determine how you will measure if your students have mastered your learning outcomes. Thus, your second step is to create assessments that authentically capture the essence of each learning outcome. Learning outcomes and assessments directly linked; they are different sides of the same coin.
3. Learning Activities: Now it is time to create formative learning activities that help students gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for them to succeed in completing the assessments. For a list of possible learning activities click here.
Classifying learning outcomes
When writing learning outcomes, think about what you want students to be able to do as a result of their learning. These actions can fall into three possible categories (domains):
Of course, some units of learning may occur in more than one domain at the same time.
Each of these categories has different possible levels of learning. These range from simple recall or observation to the complex evaluation or re-organization of information.
Bloom’s Taxonomy Overview: The Three Domains
Choosing appropriate action verbs
Notice that the action verbs you choose represent measurable or observable behaviours. Avoid so called “weasel verbs”, vague verbs such as know or understand which are not easily measurable. Substitute them with, identify, define, describe, or demonstrate. (Some subjective terms such as appreciate and be aware of may sometimes be used for outcomes in the affective domain.)
The charts below show samples of the action verbs you can choose from to write learning outcomes in each of the three domains (cognitive, psychomotor and affective). Make sure that the verbs you choose match the level of learning you require.
For example, a 1000 level biology course will have a larger number of lower level thinking verbs (associated with remembering, understanding and applying) than a 4000 level course where students have mastered the basics and now get to apply, evaluate and create with it (higher level thinking verbs).
Be very intentional in choosing your verbs, they not only reflect the domain in which you want students to operate, but also the level of competency you want them to achieve.
As you design your learning outcomes, use the checklist below. It will remind you of all the important points about learning outcomes.
Checklist for Writing Learning Outcomes
Use the following checklist to help you as you write learning outcomes.
When writing learning outcomes, I need to:
1. Focus on outcomes, not processes.
2. Start each outcome with an action verb.
3. Use only one action verb per learning outcome.
4. Avoid vague verbs such as know and understand.
5. Check that the verbs used reflect the level of learning required.
6. Ensure that outcomes are observable and measurable.
7. Check that all learning outcomes fit the ALARMS criteria.
8. Write the outcomes in terms of what the learner does, not what the instructor does.
9. Check that the outcomes reflect knowledge, skills, or attitudes that are relevant and required in the professional field.
10. Include outcomes that are woven into the entire course (such as work effectively in teams).
11. Check that there are the appropriate number of outcomes (no more than three per major topic).
12. Check that you have appropriate course goals.
One last note is to remind students of the learning outcomes for each unit. You may want to use a feature, such as Checking Your Understanding at the end of the unit for students to do a self-check.
This document is based on:
- Writing Learning Outcomes, BCIT, LEARNING RESOURCES UNIT3700 Willingdon Avenue, Burnaby, BC, V5G 3H2, http://www.lru.bcit.ca
and was adapted by Franzi Ng, EdD, Instructional Designer, Open Learning. March 2014