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What is a good learning outcome?

The intention of learning outcomes is to make it clear to the students what they are expected to achieve as a result of completing a course.
© UNSW Sydney 2017
The intention of learning outcomes is to make it clear to the students what they, as learners, are expected to achieve as a result of having successfully completed the course.
Learning outcomes describe the knowledge, skills and the application of the knowledge and skills a person has acquired and is able to demonstrate as a result of learning (AQF, 2013, p.97).
Course Learning Outcomes (CLO) are nested within Program Learning Outcomes (PLO), as we explored in Step 1.12. Learning outcomes should align with the key course components of curriculum content, learning and teaching activities, and assessment.

How to write learning outcomes

Use these criteria as a guide when developing your learning outcomes. Good learning outcomes:
  • represent the learning goals by starting with an action verb
  • are expressed clearly and easily understood
  • can be understood within the context of the discipline (eg: what is critical thinking within the faculty?)
  • indicate the kind of performance expected (either within the outcome or aligned to the criteria for assessment)
  • should be authentic to the level of learning (e.g. undergraduate versus postgraduate, 1st year course versus a 3rd year course)
  • be limited in number (ideally 4 to 6)
Here is a simple formula for writing learning outcomes:
writing learning outcomes Learning Outcome formula, ©Macquarie University, Australia, FILT, 2015

Reflection Point

Compare and contrast the follow learning outcomes.
Not-so-good learning outcomesGood learning outcomes
The students will understand democraciesThe students will describe major theories of democracy
The students will appreciate art from other culturesThe students will identify the characteristics of art from other cultures
The students will learn about the law of relativityThe students will explain the major tenets of the law of relativity

Blooms Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956) provides a ready made list of verbs that might help you to articulate levels of academic cognitive performance when you are writing learning outcomes. A revised list of Blooms taxonomy verbs is also available.
Blooms Taxonomy Image of Bloom’s Taxonomy by Vanderbuilt University Center for Teaching, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

Mapping time

Let’s consider the learning outcomes for both this course and the program. Which level of Bloom’s Taxonomy are these outcomes aligned?
The Program Learning Outcomes (PLO) for the Foundations of University Learning and Teaching program mapped to Bloom’s taxonomy are:
  • Apply learner-centred approaches to teaching and/or design for learning in higher education. [Apply]
  • Integrate current curriculum design, teaching, assessment and evaluation principles and practices in your practice. [Create]
  • Develop teaching capability in face-to-face, blended and online learning contexts. [Create]
  • Critically reflect on professional practice drawing on current educational literature, institutional policy and other sources. [Evaluate]
The Course Learning Outcomes (CLO) for the Introduction to Educational Design in Higher Education course mapped to Bloom’s taxonomy are:
  • Describe established curriculum and learning design principles which support student learning in your context. [Understand]
  • Identify the role of constructive alignment and the principles of assessment and relate them to your context. [Understand]
  • Compare and contrast learning design models. [Analyze]
  • Apply an integrated model to (re)design components of a course of study aligned to a program. [Apply]

Talking point

Consider a course or program that you have studied, supported or taught. Use the learning outcome formula to either update or write one new learning outcome within the course or program, using Bloom’s taxonomy verbs. Include your original learning outcome, if this has been revised.
Post your previous and / or new or revised learning outcome in the Comment thread, with justification.

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about this topic on writing a good learning outcome there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf for this step.
Australian Qualifications Framework Council. (2013). The Australian Qualifications Framework Second Edition January 2013.
Bloom, B.S. (Ed), Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. The classification of educational goals. Handbook 1 Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay.
© UNSW Sydney 2017
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