Writing Learning Outcomes

Students perform best when they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and how they can best meet those expectations. Learning outcomes are formal statements that articulate what students are able to do, know, and think at the end of the course or as a result of instruction. Typically, they are written in the format of an outcome, which represent what students will be able to do or know as a result of a course:

Learning outcomes consist of three parts:

  • An action word that identifies the performance that will be demonstrated;
  • A learning statement that specifies what learning will be demonstrated in the performance; and
  • A broad statement of the criterion or standard for acceptable performance.

Examples of learning outcomes:

  • Students will be able to distinguish between primary and secondary sources and use them appropriately in their research.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate their understanding of proofs by determining whether or not an argument is valid.
  • Students will be able to explore information resources - through both the traditional library and emerging technological sources - to use them effectively, and to acknowledge them correctly.
  • Students will be able to generate appropriate statistical measures to test hypotheses and determine which outcomes support (or do not support) the hypotheses.

More information about writing learning outcomes can be found in the article How to Write Program Objectives/Outcomes developed at the University of Connecticut.

Scholars have developed a number of ways to classify the language used in writing learning outcomes. The best known of these is Bloom’s Taxonomy which categorizes educational goals along a continuum of cognitive processes: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Bloom and his colleagues provide a list of action verbs that help to identify what you expect from a student's performance. Using the appropriate action verbs can help clarify for you and your students the type of learning you expect. More information about Bloom's Taxonomy can be found at the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Another resource containing action verbs, from the University of Virginia's Teaching Resource Center, covers a broad range of significant learning objectives.

There are many ways to identify the cognitive skills and types of knowledge that are the expected outcomes of an academic experience. Depending on the course level and its role in the curriculum, course objectives or learning outcomes may focus on lower level skills: On completing this course students will be able to identify the five causes of the American Civil War,or on higher level skills: On completing this course students will be able to integrate the theoretical positions of at least five Civil War scholars with their own conclusions.