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Developing learning outcomes using the SMART

How can we ensure that our learning outcomes are SMART?
Person looking through a magnifying glass

Characteristics of good learning outcomes

Good learning outcomes focus on knowledge and skills that will be delivered via a particular unit of instruction (e.g. activity, course program, etc.).

They emerge from a process of reflection on the essential components of a unit of instruction, to define a learner’s intended performance, so it cannot be misinterpreted.

Learning outcomes need specific and active language forms (verbs or doing words) to ensure learners are aware of what they will be assessed on and that the learners’ and teachers’ goals are aligned.

SMART Learning Outcomes

Generally, a learning outcome describes what a student should be able to do to successfully a unit of learning. The SMART framework is a useful model for the writing of learning outcomes.

SMART is an acronym for:

Criteria Explanation
Specific Outcomes must be precise and clear and mean the same thing to the teacher and all learners.
Measurable Outcomes must be measurable. If they are not measurable, then there is no way to assess them.
Attainable The learner must have a reasonable chance of attaining (achieving) the outcome. When outcomes are unrealistically high or low, learners can lose motivation.
Relevant Outcomes must be relevant to the learning and the learner. If the learning is not relevant, learners can disengage.
Time-bound The timeframe must be realistic so a learner can achieve the outcome. Again, learners will disengage if they don’t have sufficient time. Equally, they can lose motivation if they have too much time.

When writing outcomes:

  • Keep the wording simple
  • Use verbs that have precise meanings (e.g. “to understand” is vague, but “to state” is precise)
  • Focus on what the learner will be able to do
  • Focus on the outcomes, not the learning process (i.e. describe an observable performance, not how it will be taught).

It is helpful to start with the phrase “By the end of this (session/course/ programme), learners will be able to…”

This focuses immediately on what you would like the learners to achieve for the session. Next, list the intended learning outcomes starting each with a verb. As the outcome describes an observable performance, use a verb with a precise meaning.

The following shows verbs and phrases on the left to avoid, while those on the right are useful for helping define a learning outcome.

Avoid words and phrases like… Use words and phrases like
Know… State…
Understand… Describe…
Fully understand… Suggest reasons why…
Be familiar with… Explain…
Learn the basics of… Compare…
Gain a knowledge of… Distinguish between…

Look at the learning outcomes in the document attached to this article.

Which ones do you think are SMART and which are not? How could you improve them so that they are SMART?

This article is from the free online

Adult Education Essentials: Student-Centred Course Design

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