Table of Contents

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA

Information for specific audiences:

Introduction

Learning outcomes describe the measurable skills, abilities, knowledge, or values that students should be able to do or demonstrate as a result of a completing a program of study, a course, or lesson.

Learning outcomes are student-centered rather than teacher-centered, in that they describe what the students will do, not what the instructor will teach. 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 expected 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.

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.

1. Why Learning Outcomes?

Learning outcomes help faculty to:

  • Decide out 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 are Needed

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2. Levels of Learning Outcomes

There are three different levels of learning outcomes - Degree program, Course, and Class module. Table 1 below compares the scope, time dimension, and use of these three levels of learning outcomes:

 

Degree Program

Course

Class Module

Scope

Broad

Moderate

Narrow

Time Needed

One or more years

Weeks or months

Hours or days

Use

Design curriculum

Design units of instruction

Design lectures, daily activities, experiences, and exercises

Table 1. Relationship of Degree Program, Course, and Class Module Learning Outcomes.

The Office of Institutional Assessment and Compliance provides a sample learning outcome list by degree program here.


3. 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

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”.

4. The SUBJECT of the Learning Outcome Statement

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

  • The student will...
  • Students will...
  • The student should...
  • Students should...

5. 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. Table 2 below 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.

Category

Action Verbs & Cognitive Processes

Assessment Formats

Remember - retrieve relevant knowledge from long-term memory

Recognizing - comparing knowledge from long-term memory with presented information.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: identify, recognize, select, label, arrange, order, repeat, copy, duplicate, match, associate.

True-false; Multiple choice; Matching items from two lists

 

Recalling - retrieving knowledge from long-term memory when presented with a question.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: recall, locate, retrieve, list, name, reproduce, state, describe, cite, recite, define, quote.

Questions vary depending on the extent of providing hints and being placed within a larger context

Understand - construct meaning from oral, written, and graphic communication

Interpreting - moving from one form of representation to another.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: represent, interpret, clarify, paraphrase, reproduce, change, modify, convert, transform, translate, restate, rewrite, quantify.

Construct or selecting given information in a different form (e.g. transforming a verbal representation of a system into a use-case diagram)

 

Exemplifying - finding a specific example of a concept or principle.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: give example, illustrate.

Asking the student to give a constructed or selected example

 

Classifying - placing something in category.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: group, categorize, classify.

Asking a student to pair an instance with a concept, principle, or category

 

Summarizing - synthesizing general points.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: summarize, generalize, synthesize, assemble, combine, compile, integrate, consolidate.

Asking a student to produce a theme or summary when presented with an information

 

Inferring - drawing a logical conclusion from the presented information.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: extrapolate, interpolate, predict, conclude, infer, deduce.

Completion tasks - complete a series; Analogy tasks - complete an analogy; Oddity tasks - determining which of several items does not belong to a list

 

Comparing - detecting correspondences between two or more entities.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: compare, contrast, map, match, correlate.

Mapping - showing correspondence between respective parts of two entities

 

Explaining - constructing a cause-and-effect model of a system.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: sequence, explain, diagnose, troubleshoot, repair, redesign, predict, prescribe.

Reasoning - offering a reason for a given event; Troubleshooting - diagnosing the problem in a malfunctioning system; Redesigning - making changes in a system to accomplish some goal; Predicting - determining what effect a change in one part of a system will have on another part of a system

Apply - carry out or use a procedure in a given situation

Executing (carrying out a procedure with a familiar task) - associated with the use of skills and algorithms, applies procedural knowledge.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: carry out, calculate, compute, operate, process, execute, follow, perform, use, utilize, practice.

Applying a well-known procedure to a familiar problem

 

Implementing (using a procedure with an unfamiliar task) - associated with the use of techniques and methods, applies conceptual knowledge.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: adapt, implement, demonstrate, determine, conduct..

Determining the procedure necessary for solving an unfamiliar problem

Analyze - break material into its constituent parts and determine how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose

Differentiating - distinguishing relevant from irrelevant parts or important from unimportant parts of presented material.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: select, discriminate, distinguish, differentiate, focus on, point out.

Determining which parts in a given material are most important or relevant

 

Organizing - determining how elements fit within a structure.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: analyze, break down, organize, outline, sketch, draw, diagram, chart, tabulate, parse, separate, subdivide.

Providing an outline, table, matrix, or hierarchical diagram

 

Attributing - determining a point of view, intent, purpose.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: attribute, ascribe, depict, describe, infer, deduce.

Constructing or selecting a description of the author's point of view or intentions when presented with some written or oral material

Evaluate - make judgments based on criteria and standards

Checking - detecting inconsistencies or fallacies within a process or product (internal inconsistency).
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: detect, monitor, coordinate, test.

Detecting inconsistencies or logical flaws in presented information

 

Critiquing - detecting inconsistencies between a product and external criteria (external inconsistency).
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: grade, score, judge, reason, appraise, assess, defend, estimate, argue, rank, rate, support, review, critique, justify, recommend, prove, disprove, refute, qualify, criticize, verify, evaluate, discuss.

Evaluating a proposed solution or hypothesis; judging which of several methods provides a better solution to a problem

Create - put elements together to form a structure or reorganize elements into a new structure

Generating - coming up with alternative hypotheses based on criteria.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: generate, hypothesize, theorize, research, experiment, explore.

Producing alternatives or hypotheses - generating alternative methods for achieving a particular result; Consequences tasks - listing all possible consequences of a certain event; Uses tasks - listing all possible uses for an object

 

Planning - devising a procedure for accomplishing some task.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: design, devise, solve, propose, formulate, plan, prepare, systematize, improve, innovate, refine.

Developing a solution method, describing solution plans, or selecting solution plans for a given problem.

 

Producing - inventing a product.
Sample learning outcome verbs may include: write, construct, produce, compose, invent, create, program, build.

Developing a novel product that satisfies a description

 

Table 2.The Cognitive Process Dimension


6. 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. Table 3 below explains these types of knowledge along with their specific subtypes and provides examples for each one.

Type

Subtype

Example

Factual Knowledge - discrete, isolated content elements

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

Table 3. The Knowledge Dimension.


7. 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.

Table 4 represents the Taxonomy Table. The intersection of a learning outcome verb (cognitive process) and a knowledge type (broad classification for course content) represents a cell in this table. Specific learning outcome statements corresponding to each cell of the table are shown below.

 

The Cognitive Process Dimension

The Knowledge Dimension

1.
Remember

2.
Understand

3.
Apply

4.
Analyze

5.
Evaluate

6.
Create

A.
Factual
Knowledge

1A 2A 3A 4A 5A 6A

B.
Conceptual
Knowledge

1B 2B 3B 4B 5B 6B

C.
Procedural
Knowledge

1C 2C 3C 4C 5C 6C

D.
Metacognitive
Knowledge

1D 2D 3D 4D 5D 6D

Table 4. The Taxonomy Table.


Additional Resources
Seminar: Student-Centered Learning Outcomes

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Other important links:

Columbia, SC 29208 • 803-777-8322 • cte@sc.edu