Constructing Learning Outcomes

Learning can be defined as lasting change caused by experience. Learning cannot be observed directly but it can be inferred from behaviour.

“For learning to occur, there has to be some kind of change in the learner. No change, no learning. And significant learning requires that there be some kind of lasting change that is important in terms of the learner’s life.”

(Fink, 2013, p. 34)

Learning outcomes and objectives, written from a student perspective, communicate what the student needs to do in order to demonstrate that they met the learning expectations.

This resource will outline how to write learning outcomes and introduce you to domains of learning and taxonomies to help you write your learning outcomes.

Note: The process and considerations for writing learning outcomes are the same as those for writing learning objectives.

Sources that can Inform Learning Goals, Outcomes, and Objectives

Instructors and course authors may face various situations when creating or revising a course, such as:

  1. developing a new course or redeveloping a course from scratch;
  2. teaching a course that another course author created or one that relies heavily on a textbook; or
  3. developing or teaching a course that is part of a larger program.

The course author can draw on the following resources to determine the key topics, concepts, events, skills and experiences that they want as part of a new course, as discussed by Carriveau (2016):

  • personal expertise in the discipline;
  • expertise from colleagues and practitioners in the discipline, including publications;
  • existing outcomes, objectives or goals related to the course theme;
  • student and teacher textbooks;
  • department and institutional goals;
  • professional accreditation standards; and
  • course descriptions and topics.

After the key topics, concepts, events, skills and experiences are determined, the following questions will help in writing the learning outcomes and objectives:

  • What are the most important knowledge, skills, or attitudes (KSA) for this group of learners?
  • What level of learning is needed for this group of learners? What level of cognitive skill is appropriate?
  • What criteria need to be included? (Criteria may include using specific materials, level of accuracy or proficiency required, etc.)
  • How will instructors and students determine if the student met the required expectation?

Before reviewing how to structure learning outcomes and objectives, let’s take a look at taxonomies and domains.

Taxonomies and Domains

Taxonomies in teaching and learning are systems used to classify learning outcomes and objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. Taxonomies aid in verb selection.

There are three major domains of learning: cognitive, psychomotor, and affective. It is not unusual for taxonomies focus on one domain. Below are definitions and illustrations of taxonomy wheels.

Cognitive (knowledge):
What students should know and

(Read more about the cognitive domain)

Psychomotor (skills):
What students should be
able to do.

(Read more about the psychomotor domain)

Affective (attitudes):
What students’ opinions will be
about the subject matter.

(Read more about the affective domain)

Often, when we hear the term ‘taxonomy’ we think of Bloom’s taxonomy, which focuses on the cognitive domain. Below is Anderson and Krathwohl’s 2001 version of the Cognitive Domain taxonomy, A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is a rework of Bloom’s original.

Cognitive ProcessLevel of ComplexityTypical UseSample Verbs
RememberingLowestRecall factsdefine, describe, duplicate, find, identify, list, locate, memorize, name, recall, recognize, repeat, reproduce, retrieve, state.
UnderstandingLowExplain conceptsclassify, describe, discuss, explain, estimate, identify, locate, paraphrase, predict, recognize, report, select, summarize, translate .
ApplyingLow – MediumUse information in a new wayapply, carry out, choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, execute, illustrate, implement, interpret, operate, schedule, show, sketch, solve, use, write.
AnalyzingMedium – HighDifferentiate between componentsattribute, compare, contrast, criticize, deconstruct, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, find, integrate, organize, outline, question, test.
EvaluatingHighProduce judgementappraise, argue, check, conclude, critique, defend, detect, evaluate, explain, experiment, hypothesize, judge, monitor, select, support, test, value.
CreatingHighestAssemble elements into novel productassemble, construct, create, design, develop, devise, formulate, invent, plan, produce, make, write.

Problematic Words

Why can’t we use words like “understand” when writing learning objectives? The verb “understand” is vague and does not provide an observable and measurable standard of performance. Verbs such as classify, discuss, and summarize are more specific and indicate the means of measuring learning. They also provide information to students on how to approach and check their learning.

Other problematic words include: appreciate, believe, self-actualize, experience, hear, listen, comprehend, cover, enjoy, feel, perceive, see, recognize, conceptualize, explore, memorize, think, familiarize, know, learn, realize, study, be aware (of), become acquainted (with), delve into, gain an understanding (of), gain knowledge (of), grasp significance (of), have faith (in).

Other taxonomies

Take the time to investigate a few other taxonomies to find one which will work best for your needs, course or discipline.

Note: Choose one taxonomy for the entire course for a given domain. You may need a taxonomy for each of the three domains; cognitive, psychomotor, or affective. Some taxonomies cover more than one domain.

  1. Krathwohl, Bloom & Masia (1956, 1999) Affective domain
  2. Harrow (1972) Psychomotor domain
  3. Simpson (1972) Pscyhomotor domain
  4. Dave (1975) Psychomotor domain
  5. Nunnally (1967) Affective domain
  6. Reigleuth (1999) Affective & Cognitive domains
  7. Gagne (1972) Cognitive, Affective & Psychomotor domains

Writing Learning Outcomes and Objectives

Starting with a topic or task and how students will demonstrate having learned it, you can then follow a set of steps to write the learning outcomes and associated objectives.

  1. Start with one KSA.
  2. Determine the level of learning related to the KSA.
  3. Select a verb that matches the level of learning and communicates what you want students to do in order to demonstrate their learning.
  4. Add the criteria (if necessary).
  5. Put everything together to write the learning outcome(s) or objective(s).

Example 1

  1. State the KSA:
    • Conceptual models of advance practice nursing
  2. Determine the cognitive process (in this case, we are using the cognitive domain)
    • Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create
  3. Select an appropriate verb:
    • describe
    • compare and contrast
  4. Add the criterion
    • 100% accuracy is not required in the assessment of this outcome.
  5. Put everything together to write the learning outcome or objective:

After successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:

  • Describe the various conceptual models of advance practice nursing.
  • Compare and contrast various conceptual models of advance practice nursing.

Example 2

  1. State the KSA:
    • Theoretical bases of various dramatic genres
  2. Determine the level of learning (in this case, from the cognitive domain)
    • Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create
  3. Select an appropriate verb:
    • explain
  4. Add the criterion:
    • using examples from plays of different eras
  5. Put everything together to write the learning outcome or objective:

At the end of this unit, you will be able to explain the theoretical bases of various dramatic genres using examples from plays of different eras.

Example 3

In this example, five objectives are shown which relate to a broader learning outcome. Note the inclusion of multiple levels of ability in verb choice.

Unit Learning OutcomeTopic Learning Objectives
Produce a policy relating to recycling on campus (creating).Define recycling (remembering).
Identify the problem with recycling on campus (remembering).
Summarize the community’s concerns regarding recycling on campus (understanding).
Develop steps, regulations, and procedures for effective recycling on campus (analyzing).
Outline, in an organizational chart, the roles responsible for recycling on campus (applying).

For information on using learning goals, outcomes, and objectives for course design, see Learning Outcomes – Alignment.


Resource created by Denise C. & Jane C.
Page last updated February 24, 2022