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Preparing Effective Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are direct statements that describe the essential and enduring disciplinary knowledge and abilities that students should possess, and the depth of learning that is expected upon completion of a program or course (Anderson et al., 2001; Harden, 2002). They focus on transferable knowledge, skills and behaviors that can be observed and assessed, and are reflective of disciplinary contexts.

Learning outcomes answer the questions:

    1. How would you describe the attributes of an ideal graduate of the program? What unique strengths should students who complete this program possess?
    2. What is essential that students know and be able to do at the end of their learning experiences? What key knowledge, skills and values/attitudes should students who complete the program possess?

The following guidelines should be considered when preparing effective LO statements. Learning outcomes should:

    • complete a phrase describing what students should know and/or be able to do by the end of the program or course (e.g. "By the end of this program, successful students will be able to...").
    • start with an action verb that specifying the depth of learning expected (Table 1), followed by a statement describing the knowledge and abilities to be demonstrated, and finally a statement (or statements) to provide context within the discipline (Figure 1, below).
    • be concise, direct and clearly stated. Terms such as know, understand, learn, appreciate and to be aware of should be avoided, and the specific level of achievement should be clearly identified.
    • be observable and measurable. LO must be capable of being assessed, based on clearly defined criteria associated with the teaching/learning activities and assessment strategies contained within the curriculum.
    • be balanced. If the LO is too broad, it will be difficult to assess. If the list of learning outcomes is long and detailed, they are likely to limit flexibility and adaptability in the curriculum.
    • be grounded within the discipline, and consistent with disciplinary language, norms and standards.

Table 1: Depth of learning conceptualized from remembering and understanding to evaluating and creating (adapted from Anderson et al., 2001).

Level Description Common Verb Associations
Remembering and Understanding Recalling and remembering information, explaining ideas and concepts recognize, recall, identify, label, interpret, explain, illustrate, summarize, classify, review
Applying and Analyzing Applying, distinguishing and relating information execute, implement, use, differentiate, distinguish, organize, integrate, apply, analyze, solve
Evaluating and Creating Justifying a decision, creating a product monitor, judge, test, generate, design, plan, produce, construct, hypothesize, recommend, revise, compose

Learning Outcomes graphic

Figure 1: Anatomy of a Learning Outcome.

References

Anderson, L.W., Krathwohl, D.R., Airasian, P.W., Cruikshank, K.A., Mayer, R.E., Pintrich, P.R., Raths, J., and Wittrock, M.C. 2001. A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Longman, New York.

Harden, R.M. 2002. Learning outcomes and instructional objectives: is there a difference? Medical Teacher 24(2):151-155.

 

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