Learning Outcomes: Alignment

When thinking about designing and developing a course, an instructor must consider:

  • learning goals, outcomes, and objectives
  • assessments and feedback
  • instructional strategies, learning activities, and resources

Consider learning outcomes, assessments and activities that support one another in order to provide students the best opportunity to learn.

This resource will explain what alignment is in course design and what to look out for in order to create a well aligned course.

The Alignment Triangle

Alignment in course design means that the outcomes, assessments, and activities all support one another. It is often depicted as an isosceles or equilateral triangle. If one part of the triangle is absent or is not supportive of the other parts, the triangle will collapse or will look different than the intended triangle.

Learning outcomes:
Learning outcomes guide the selection and design of learning activities and assessments.
Assessments:
Assessments are in alignment when they assess whether or not a student can achieve the specific outcome.
Activities:
Activities and resources are in alignment when they provide students the best opportunity to learn what is specified in the learning outcome.

Ensuring Alignment

A good learning outcome contains a verb that can guide the selection or creation of activities that students need to engage with to achieve the outcome. The same verb can guide the selection or creation of assessments that can measure how well students achieved the outcome and facilitate appropriate feedback.

It is critical that learning activities, including skills practice, match the learning outcome and that assessments measure what students learned and practiced. After reviewing the course, you may discover that you have an activity or assessment that is not aligned with the outcomes. You may need to modify the activity or assessment to reflect the outcome or you may end up revising the outcome.

NOTE

Some textbooks and associated publisher resources come with learning outcomes or objectives. Review all outcomes and objectives carefully to ensure alignment and appropriateness for your course.

Example

Here is an example of this relationship between these three components affecting each other.

  • The learning outcome, or objective of a lesson is to explain the events that caused World War I.
  • The activity for the lesson is to outline the historical events that lead to the tensions which sparked the First World War.
  • The assessment of this lesson comes in the form of an exam question, which asks students to discuss the role of governments and politics which gave rise to the First World War.

Resources

  • Dick, W., Carey, L., & Carey, J.O., (2001). The Systematic Design of Instruction. 5th Edition. New York: Longman.
  • 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.

Learning Outcomes: Construction

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, & 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
  • 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.

Cognitive (knowledge):
what students should know and understand
Psychomotor (skills):
what students should be able to do
Affective (attitudes):
what students’ opinions will be about the subject matter

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 Domain Taxonomy
Cognitive process Level of complexity Typical use Sample verbs
Remembering Lowest Recall facts define, describe, duplicate, find, identify, list, locate, memorize, name, recall, recognize, repeat, reproduce, retrieve, state.
Understanding L Explain concepts classify, describe, discuss, explain, estimate, identify, locate, paraphrase, predict, recognize, report, select, summarize, translate .
Applying L-M Use information in a new way apply, carry out, choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, execute, illustrate, implement, interpret, operate, schedule, show, sketch, solve, use, write.
Analyzing M-H Differentiate between components attribute, compare, contrast, criticize, deconstruct, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, find, integrate, organize, outline, question, test.
Evaluating H Produce judgement appraise, argue, check, conclude, critique, defend, detect, evaluate, explain, experiment, hypothesize, judge, monitor, select, support, test, value.
Creating Highest Assemble elements into novel product assemble, 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 & 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 Outcome Topic 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.

Resources

  1. Cariveau, R. S. (Ed.). (2016). Developing Student Learning Outcomes. In Connecting the Dots. 2nd edition. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
  2. Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. (2011). A model of learning objectives. Iowa State University. Retrieved from http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/RevisedBlooms1.html
  3. Gronlund, N. E., & Brookhart, S. M. (2009). Writing Instructional Objectives (8th Edition). Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Inc.
  4. Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy, an overview. Theory into Practice (41)4, 212-219.
  5. Krathwohl, D., & Andreson, L. (2002). Taxonomies of educational objectives. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403200606.html
  6. Teaching Support Services, U Guelph. (2011). Learning objectives: a basic guide. University of Guelph. Retrieved from www.tss.uoguelph.ca/resources/idres/learningobjectives1.pdf
  7. Teaching and Learning Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/tll/teaching-materials/learning-objectives/index-learning-objectives.html
  8. Stellenbosch University. (2016). Appendix A: Taxonomies of Learning Domains. Retrieved from https://www.sun.ac.za/english/learning-teaching/ctl/Documents/Summary%20of%20all%20domains.pdf
Resource created by Denise C. & Jane C.

Learning Outcomes: Definition, Characteristics, 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.