Teaching and Learning

A guide to writing student learning outcome statements

Further Information

  • Student learning outcomes
  • Learning outcomes

There is a lot of literature about the differences between goals, objectives and outcomes.

For our purposes, a goal (or aim) is a broad, general statement which may include the philosophical base that underpins a unit of study. There is also considerable debate over the use of the terms "objective" and "outcome"; however, for our purposes we will ignore this conflict and take them to mean the same thing.

Finally, there are many different ways to go about writing outcome statements, and no one method is correct. The following is merely intended as a guide of how to make a start.

  1. What is a learning outcome statement?
  2. Why write learning outcome statements?
  3. Before you write learning outcome statements – some ideas
  4. Make a start

What is a learning outcome statement?

A learning outcome is a statement of what a learner is expected to know, understand or be able to do as a result of a learning process.

Why write learning outcome statements?

  • Identifying outcomes is an effective way to review curriculum and content. This leads to a more balanced and well-sequenced curriculum.
  • It is effective in designing appropriate assessment.
  • Lecturers know exactly what students are expected to learn in their own unit as well as in previous units.
  • Staff are easily able to evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching. Have the outcomes been achieved?
  • An instructional shift from teaching to learning is facilitated. The focus is on the learner rather than the teacher.
  • Students will know exactly what they are expected to learn for each unit. They know where they stand and the curriculum is more open to them.
  • Students will know exactly how their learning will be assessed.
  • Students begin to take more responsibility for their own learning when they know what they are expected to do and what standard they are expected to achieve.
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Before you write learning outcome statements – some ideas

  • What information or content do you want the students to learn from your unit?
  • What do you want them to do with that information?
  • What skills or competencies do you want them to learn or develop?
  • What kinds of higher level thinking do you want them to engage in?
  • How do you expect students to demonstrate what they have learned and how well they have learned it?
  • At the very minimum, what should students know and be able to do when they finish your unit?
  • How do you think they will be able to use the information and skills that they have developed?
  • If someone asks the students what have they learned in your unit, how would you like them to answer?
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Make a start

Think about the big picture

What is the major aim of the unit of study? What is the unit trying to achieve? It is much better to sketch out the whole unit before you go to the specifics.

Write the goal or aim statement for your unit if it does not already exist. This should be a broad general statement. The goal or aim statement of a unit does not give students specific information about what they will be expected to be able to do or know, nor does it give information about how they will be assessed.

For example: General Genetics 204 (139.204)

This unit provides an introduction to the fundamental concepts responsible for diversity of form, function and life responses found in all biological organisms. The principles of Mendelian, population, quantitative, cyto and molecular genetics are considered together with the implications they have for advancing understanding of human disease, plant/animal/microbe interactions, plant/animal/microbe physiology and metabolism and genotype x environment interactions.

Consider the scope of your unit

Specify the major topics or sections in your unit by brainstorming and making a list. What sorts of things do you want the students to learn? At this level the outcome statements will be quite broad, referring to such areas as communication skills, computer literacy and problem solving.

For example:

Students are able to:

  • demonstrate proficiency within the laboratory by the correct use of the appropriate equipment
  • communicate their comprehension of ....... concepts by being able to follow and construct sound ....... arguments
  • express their ideas coherently and logically when working both independently and co-operatively in both practical sessions and through assignments
  • demonstrate computer literacy by the use of internet resources and appropriate software in tutorial/laboratory sessions
  • critically appraise the strengths and weaknesses of ........, proposing solutions to problems affecting the implementation of .........

The next step is to identify specifics

What specific, detailed knowledge, information, or skills do you expect your students to learn for each section or lecture of your unit? Brainstorm and create a list. This is where you will write clear, precise statements that detail what the students will be actually doing.

Your list may include:

  • specific calculations
  • specific skills, such as learning how to use the graphing function of Excel
  • demonstrate a specific technique
  • recall certain facts
  • draw a particular diagram.

Think about how students can demonstrate their learning

What exactly should they be able to do by the unit's completion? Brainstorm and generate a list of ideas for how students can demonstrate what, how much and how well they have learned.

Your list may include:

  • give an oral presentation
  • conduct a section of a tutorial session
  • write a report
  • collaborate in a group
  • answer specific questions
  • complete a particular task.

You should now have a list of specific things that you want your students to be able to learn and skills that they should be able to do. You now need to write these ideas into learning outcome statements.

Remember that there are no set number of learning outcomes; however, each learning outcome statement should be able to be assessed. If you have too many outcomes maybe you need to think about the amount of content that you are trying to cover!

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