Learning Outcomes: Definition, Characteristics, and Benefits

This resource is designed to help you write and use learning outcomes as you design and teach courses. It includes relevant definitions and the characteristics and benefits of learning outcomes. The resource will be useful for those who are creating a new course, re-developing a course, or teaching a course that was designed by someone else.

NOTE

This resource introduces learning outcomes. See Planning a CourseConstructing Outcomes, and Alignment for more information on those topics.

Definitions

Goals:
Course goals or learning goals are the broad desired results of a course. Goals reflect the purpose of the course and may be derived from a program of study. They are what you want students to learn or get out of your course (Fink 2013).
Outcomes:
Learning outcomes describe what learners should know, be able to do, and value as a result of integrating knowledge, skills, and attitudes learned throughout the course. They are stated in measurable terms.
Objectives:
Learning objectives describe the intended result of a learning experience. They are stated in measurable terms. Learning objectives identify discrete aspects of a learning outcome or goal. Collectively, they roll up to meet learning outcomes or goals.

NOTE

CITL recommends using objectives at topic level. When students engage in the learning they can use the objective statements to guide their learning, practicing and testing themselves against the objectives.

We provide definitions of goals, outcomes, and objectives not as a definitive list of terms that must be used in your course but as a way to help you in your approach to developing and teaching your course. The following structure shows a relationship between the terms:

 
Course Level Unit Level Topic Level
  • Learning goal
   
 
  • Learning outcome 1
 
   
  • Learning objective 1
  • Learning objective 2
  • Learning objective 3
 
  • Learning outcome 2
  • Learning outcome 3
 
   
  • Learning objective 2
  • Learning objective 4
  • Learning objective 5

Characteristics

Effective learning outcomes are:

  • Clear statements, containing a verb and an object of the verb, of what students are expected to know or do
  • Action-oriented
  • Free of ambiguous words and phrases
  • Learner-centered—written from the perspective of what the learner does
  • Clearly aligned with the course goals: each learning outcome will support a course goal
  • Aligned with the course content, including assessments
  • Realistic and achievable: the audience must be able to achieve the learning outcome within the logistics of the course (time, environment etc.)
  • Appropriate for the level of the learner (see taxonomies)

Benefits

Learning outcome statements clearly articulate what students are expected to be able to know, do, and value as a result of the learning. They guide the selection of teaching strategies, materials, learning activities, and assessments. They also help guide students in determining what and how to learn in the course.

 
Well written outcomes help instructors Well written outcomes help students
  • Identify the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that learners should develop through the course
  • Guide their studies and choose how they will approach the learning
  • Select, create, and organize the content, activities, and instructional strategies that students will need in order to achieve the outcomes
  • Assess their own learning and gauge their progress
  • Design assessments and feedback strategies that are aligned with the learning outcomes
  • Prepare for formal assessment
  • Map their curricular outcomes to a program or accreditation standard.
  • Develop metacognitive skills

References

  • Gronlund, N. E., & Brookhart, S. M. (2009). Writing Instructional Objectives (8th Edition). Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Inc.
  • Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy, an overview. Theory into Practice (41)4, 212-219.
Resource created by Denise C. & Jane C.