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Learning Outcomes

At the program and course level learning outcomes help define the destination for student learning and in turn allow students to be aware of what is expected of them. Learning Outcomes are statements about anticipated achievements of students: what will they be able to do with your content that they couldn't do before taking your class? To be most effective, learning outcomes should be precise, specific, and measurable--and aspirational. We say 'aspirational' because learning outcomes should point at significant things students will be able to do with your course content well after they have left your course.

To write good learning outcomes, ask yourself three questions. By the end of the course:

  • What should students know?

  • What should students be able to do?

  • What qualities or attributes do you want students to have? (What should they value, how should they act as a result of your course?)

Learning outcomes are not fixed and should evolve as the course evolves over the years and as students engage in their learning from semester to semester. While you will create learning outcomes with the curriculum, course content and student learning in mind, unintended learning outcomes may arise during the progress of a course or over the span of a program. Some course learning outcomes (especially those that aim directly at established program learning outcomes) may be more constant, whereas other course learning outcomes may need to be adjusted, enhanced or re-created between iterations of a course due to changing student needs, program design changes or in response to new realities in your discipline.

How Do Learning Outcomes Fit in Course Design?

Learning Outcomes guide the assessment and evaluation methods, and the teaching and learning strategies you will use in the course. Best practice is to write and edit your learning outcomes first, aiming at what you want students to be able to do with your content. This makes it easier to develop appropriate assessments and learning strategies that align with the course outcomes, and give students the chance to show you what they can do as a result of your course. This is known as Backward Design. To learn more, take a look at the book Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. 

This video provides a good overview of how to use the backward design process for course design.

Here is a visual representation of the backward design model for course design.

"Backwards Design Model: 'Teaching for Understanding'"licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0, Muhlenberg College

Creating Learning Outcomes

Step 1. Frame your learning outcomes by starting with a statement of intent. This will provide context for you and your students. Some examples:

  • By the end of this course students will be able to…
  • By the end of this course successful students will be able to…
  • By the end of this course students should be able to...

Step 2. Choose an action verb that is measurable and observable and meets the level of learning that your students need to achieve. These verbs should;

  • be specific  and measurable. 
  • reflect what the students will be able to do once they have completed the course, not what they will do during the course, not what they will do during the course.
  • address the higher order thinking skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

There are many guides you can use to help you choose appropriate verbs using Bloom’s Taxonomy. Here are a couple to start with. 

Step 3. Follow the verb with a statement that indicates the description of learning to be demonstrated.

Step 4. End with a statement to give the learning outcome context and to identify criteria for or the quality of an acceptable performance. Using the words “by” or “through” will help with stating how the learning outcome will be assessed.

Learning Outcome

Is the outcome useful?


Study the elements of effective communication skills


Describes course content, not the attributes of a successful student.

Have a deeper appreciation for good communication practices


Does not start with an action verb or define the level of learning. 

The subject of learning has no context and is not specific. 

Understand principles of effective communication


Starts with an action verb, but the verb is not measurable. 

Does not define the level of learning.

The subject of learning is still too vague for assessment 

Create technical reports and presentations that meet the standards of a professional working environment.


Starts with an action verb that defines the level of learning.

Provides context to ensure the outcome is specific and measurable.

Adapted from Examples of Learning Outcomes Good and Bad, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Thompson Rivers University.

Additional Considerations when writing learning outcomes

  • Create a balanced set of learning outcomes. Too broad a learning outcome may sound vague and will be difficult to assess. At the same time avoid an extensive list of detailed learning outcomes will limit flexibility and adaptability of the curriculum--such a list can overwhelm students or convince them that the course is about little inconsequential actions rather than important skills and knowledge. Learning outcomes should aspirational: students should be able to see what significant things they will be able do as a result of the course.

  • Be concise and clearly state the intended learning outcomes. The best outcomes are simple and point directly at the important skills students should attain in your course. Make them 'reader-friendly' for students, faculty and others. To see whether you have achieved clarity. have a colleague or a member of the CIEL team review your outcomes and provide feedback.

  • Create realistic, authentic and attainable learning outcomes--students should realistically be able to develop the skills to do these things within the time period of the course or program.

Learning Outcome Examples

Example 1: Students who successfully complete this course will be able to make informed predictions about current, ongoing human crises using Human Development Theory.

Example 2: Students who successfully complete this course will be able to diagnose problems in fuel injection systems and prescribe the necessary repairs.

Example 3: By the end of the course, students will be able to analyze a variety of theories to combat climate change and identify their key arguments for the potential success or failure of such theoretical suggestions.

Example 4: By the end of this course, students will be able to implement multiple strategies to communicate appropriate oral health messages effectively in a public education setting.

Example 5: By the end of the course students will be able to recommend a search strategy for finding relevant academic sources

Example 6: Students who successfully complete this course will be able to interpret key arguments from a variety of academic journal articles

Next Steps

Once you have created measurable, specific and relevant course outcomes, it is time to look at how the assessments in your course match those learning outcomes. Do your assessments provide the opportunity for students to practice the skills that will allow them to meet the learning outcomes? Does any final assignment allow students to show you the entirety of their learning journey in your course?

Remember that CIEL staff are available for conversations as you write your learning outcomes and plan learning activities and assignments for your students . Just email to make an appointment.