Skip to Content

Center for Teaching Excellence


College Professor with Anatomical Model

Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes describe the measurable skills, abilities, knowledge or values that students should be able to demonstrate as a result of a completing a course. They are student-centered rather than teacher-centered, in that they describe what the students will do, not what the instructor will teach.

Introduction

Learning outcomes are not standalone statements. They must all relate to each other and to the title of the unit and avoid repetition. Articulating learning outcomes for students is part of good teaching. If you tell students what you expect them to do, and give them practice in doing it, then there is a good chance that they will be able to do it on a test or major assignment. That is to say, they will have learned what you wanted them to know. If you do not tell them what they will be expected to do, then they are left guessing what you want. If they guess wrong, they will resent you for being tricky, obscure or punishing.

Why Learning Outcomes?

Learning outcomes help faculty to:

  • Decide our emphasis in the course: Of all the things we could teach, what should we teach?
  • Decide how best to teach: Teaching students to analyze requires different teaching approaches from teaching students to memorize.
  • Decide how best to assess learning: Do I need a project or a final exam?
  • Communicate expectations to students: What are our decisions on the matters above?

Learning outcomes help students by:

  • Creating a connection between teaching and learning, between professors and students
  • Taking much of the guessing out of the student's attempt to learn
  • Enabling them to truly master the content of the course

Learning outcomes need to be SMART.

  • Specific: The learning outcome should be well defined and clear. It states exactly what will be accomplished.
  • Measurable: The learning outcome should provide a benchmark or target so that the institution can determine when the target has been reached, by how much it has been exceeded or by how much it has fallen short.
  • Agreed Upon: Important stakeholders must be in general agreement with the institution’s mission, goals and learning outcomes. Stakeholders may include university, school administration, faculty, students, alumni and/or community members.
  • Realistic: Learning outcomes should be reasonable given the available resources. Learning outcomes should neither be easy nor impossible to attain, but somewhere in between.
  • Time-Framed: A learning outcome should include a specific date by which it will be completed. It is important to allow enough time to successfully implement the steps needed to achieve the objective, but not so much as to elicit procrastination.

Click on the Expand All + sign to view the elements of a Learning Outcome Statement

Format of the Learning Outcome Statement

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy provides the framework for writing course-level learning outcomes. Each learning outcome is represented by a sentence that consists of an action verb related to a cognitive process and a clearly defined content related to a specific knowledge type.

All learning outcomes have a common format: 

Subject

Verb

Object

S V O
The SUBJECT of the Learning Outcome Statement

 The SUBJECT of the learning outcome statement is the student or the learner.

Examples:

  • Each student will be able to use word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and presentation graphics in preparing their final research project and report.
  • Upon completion of the module on educational objectives, students will be able to classify specific educational objectives into the cognitive (knowing), psychomotor (doing) and affective (feeling) learning domains.
The VERB of the Learning Outcome Statement

Each verb in a learning outcome statement represents a cognitive process.

Learning outcomes should consider the different types of cognitive processes involved in knowledge retention and transfer. 

Cognitive Process

Description

Remember Retrieve relevant knowledge from long-term memory
Understand Construct meaning from oral, written, and graphic communication
Apply Carry out or use a procedure in a given situation
Analyze Break material into its constituent parts and determine how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose
Evaluate Make judgments based on criteria and standards
Create Put elements together to form a structure or reorganize elements into a new structure

The Cognitive Process Dimensions shows action verbs in increasing order of complexity that are directly related to cognitive processes. Please note that verbs such as list, state, and write cannot be used as verbs in learning outcome statements because they do not have anything to do with cognitive processes.

The OBJECT of the Learning Outcome Statement.

The object of the learning outcome statement is derived most often from the course content.

The course content can be linked to four general types of knowledge: Factual, Conceptual, Procedural, and Metacognitive. The table below explains these types of knowledge along with their specific subtypes and provides examples for each one. 

Type

Subtype

Example

Conceptual Knowledge - interrelationships among the basic elements within a larger structure Knowledge of terminology Technical vocabulary
  Knowledge of specific details and elements Ten biggest cities in the world
Conceptual Knowledge - interrelationships among the basic elements within a larger structure Knowledge of classifications and categories Forms of business ownership
  Knowledge of principles and generalizations Newton's laws of motion
  Knowledge of theories, models, and structures The quantum theory, the structure of Congress
Procedural Knowledge - knowledge of how to do something and criteria for using skills, algorithms, techniques, and methods Knowledge of subject-specific skills and algorithms Skills used in painting with watercolors, algorithm for finding the greatest common divisor of two numbers
  Knowledge of subject-specific techniques and methods Scientific method, using recursion as a problem-solving technique in computer science
  Knowledge of criteria for determining when to use appropriate procedures Criteria used to determine when to apply a procedure involving Newton's second law of motion
Metacognitive Knowledge - knowledge about cognition in general and awareness of one's own cognition Strategic knowledge Knowledge of outlining in order to capture the structure of the presented information, knowledge of the use of heuristics
  Knowledge about cognitive tasks Knowledge of the types of tests administered by instructors, knowledge of the cognitive demands of different tasks
  Self-knowledge Knowledge that writing essays is a personal strength, awareness of one's own level of knowledge and skills

The Taxonomy Table and Assessment

The two-dimensional Taxonomy Table is a graphic representation of the learning outcome statement.

Educators can use the Taxonomy Table in at least three ways: 

  • To gain a more complete understanding of their intended learning outcomes.
  • To make better decisions about how to teach and assess their students in terms of their intended learning outcomes.
  • To determine how well the intended learning outcomes, assessments, and instructional activities fit together in a meaningful and useful way.

Additional Resources