Course Resource Kit

How to Compose Learning Outcomes

The verb in a Learning Outcome should specify the depth of learning; Bloom’s taxonomy can be helpful in determining the appropriate verb at the appropriate cognitive, affective, or psychomotor level of learning.

The components of a learning outcome are put together as follows:

  • Start with an action verb (only one!). 
    • If the taxonomy you’re using (such as Bloom’s Taxonomy) contains multiple levels, your outcome should use a verb from the highest level of achievement that you will expect from students by the end of the course. 
    • For example, instead of saying “By the end of this course, students will identify, describe, analyze, and critique various elements of political campaigning processes in the context of a national leadership election,” you might try saying, “By the end of this course, students will critique various elements of political campaigning processes in the context of a national leadership election,” as the tasks of identifying, describing, and analyzing are assumed to happen before critique happens. 
    • Avoid vague or ambiguous verbs, like understand, appreciate, or learn.
  • Follow with a statement specifying depth of learning to be demonstrated.
  • Finish with a statement to give context and identify a standard for appropriate performance.
  • Outcomes must be observable and measurable: it is often helpful to add the preposition through or by followed by a statement that clearly states how the learning outcome will be assessed. 

You’ll want to aim for balance, as learning outcomes that are too broad are difficult to evaluate, but composing too many learning outcomes or ones that are too detailed will limit your ability to be flexible.

Well-written learning outcomes should also do the following:

  • Focus on the students (what they will achieve, not what the instructor will teach)
  • Identify the level of knowledge or skill expected by the instructor

If composing learning outcomes could be expressed as a formula, it would look like this:

Action Verb + Object/Content Area + Qualifying Phrase Indicating Conditions or Criteria

For example, “By the end of the course, students will be able to document research resources using APA format.”

Action Verb+Object/Content Area+Qualifying Phrase
Documentresearch resourcesusing APA format

The verb should specify the depth of learning. Using a taxonomy (such as Bloom’s or Fink’s, which are included) may help.

Learning outcomes may be composed and assessed at the lesson, unit or module, course, program, faculty/school, and institutional levels. Typically, learning outcomes are aligned as follows, with the smallest level of learning outcomes indicated by the smallest level in the pyramid and the largest level indicated by the largest level:

The following steps can help you with creating learning outcomes:

  1. Identify desired outcomes or results
  • What do you want students to learn?
  • What is the domain of learning: cognitive, psychomotor, affective?
  • What is the level of learning?
  1. Plan learning experiences and instruction
  • How will you design the learning environment and process to help students achieve the desired outcomes?
  1. Determine acceptable evidence of learning
  • How will you know students have learned?

Here’s an activity for you to test your learning outcome composition knowledge: