Developing Learning Outcomes

Backwards Design

What are the long term goals of your course? Backwards Design begins with the end in mind: What do you want your students to achieve. If you are asking yourself: What should students know, understand and be able to do? What is worthy of understanding? What learning do you want to last than backwards design is for you.

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Definition of 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. PLAR (Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition) is assisted by having learning outcomes as students can see if they know course materials already and where they need to learn more. For transferability and ease in students moving between institutions, learning outcomes also ensure clarity in student expectations and focus of courses and programs.

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Difference between Objectives and Outcomes

Objectives are often written from a teacher’s perspective and typically are written in terms of their teaching intentions and indicate what content they intend to achieve through instruction, curricula, programs or activities. Outcomes are statements about anticipated achievements from students. They are more student-centered and describe what the learner should learn. Learning outcomes are what is hoped for students to learn along their journey and are often precise, specific, and measurable.

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Creating Well-Written Learning Outcomes

Start with an action verb that is measurable and observable. (Part 1) Follow the verb with a statement that indicates the description of learning to be demonstrated. (Part 2) End with a statement to give the learning outcome context and to identify criteria for an acceptable performance. Use the words “by” or “through” that will help with stating how the learning outcome will be assessed (Part 3)

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Examples of Learning Outcomes

Geology: By the end of this course, students should be able to demonstrate how magma geochemistry relates to partial melting of the mantle by contrasting the outcomes of this process in different tectonic regimes through the critical analysis of specific case studies.

Biochemistry: By the end of this course, students should be able to apply the principles underpinning the use of molecular graphics in the design of drugs to illustrate general and specific cases through a computer-based presentation.

English: Students should be able to analyze the relationship between the language of satire to literary form by the close examination of a selected number of eighteenth-century texts in a written essay.

Environmental Studies: Students should be able to evaluate multiple solutions to various environmental and scientific questions and assess potential outcomes to justify optimal and ethical solutions when presented with a number of authentic situations.

Theatre: Use voice, movement and dramatic character and situation to affect an audience through in class and final project presentations

History: Recall factual claims about the past and synthesize them into coherent interpretative arguments through a term paper and final debate project.

Handout - Learning Outcomes

We have prepared an easy to read handout containing the same information as this page:

Learning Outcomes Package

Curriculum Design and Alignment of Practices