Setting learning outcomes

Following the principle of constructive alignment (see curriculum design) we need to be able to describe learning outcomes that our students can achieve and that are capable of being assessed. Learning outcomes are the specific intentions related to what students should know, understand or be able to do. They are often described as discipline specific (related to the subject) or generic (related to certain skills such as presentation).

Outcomes should be explicit and intelligible to students and other users, expressed in such a form that permits their achievement to be demonstrated. When related to a program of study, outcomes should ideally be developed with reference to relevant forms of external information such as benchmarks or other frameworks.

Outcomes often use action verbs such as those described in Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Broader statements related to the development of knowledge or understanding are better described as 'aims' or 'objectives'. Learning outcomes should be appropriate to the level of study the unit is pitched at. There are no hard and fast rules about the numbers of outcomes to be described but it is worth remembering that any outcomes that are described have to be achieved. This also helps to focus outcomes on understanding for learning rather than on content.

The Learning and Teaching Centre has developed a range of resources to help you design learning outcomes for your units, including:

Writing Learning Outcomes [Word - 490k]
This document in the Assessment Toolkit has suggestions and examples on writing learning outcomes to help guide your students and make designing the rest of your unit easier.

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Bloom's Taxonomy - An Overview

The following Flash tutorials are from the Colorado Community College System wiki.

Bloom's Taxonomy - Designing Activities


References and useful links:

AQF (Australian Qualifications Framework)  
External web site setting out the benchmarks for qualifications in Australian national education

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Outcomes Based Education Principles and Processes online at Principles and processes and References
Two external web site pages setting out principles for outcomes based learning and links to a range of resources to support the writing of learning outcomes

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This resource was developed by the Learning and Teaching Centre at Macquarie University.