About Learning Outcomes

Talking about learning in terms of learning outcomes is a fundamental part of the design process.

A learning outcome is basically a statement about what you hope learners will be able to do as a result of their learning. So, for example, one learning outcome for this mini-course is:

Learners will be able to articulate connections between their own learning experiences and key concepts in learning theory, particularly active learning, constructivism, and critical pedagogy.

People have many opinions on how to write learning outcomes, but the most important thing to know is that well articulated learning outcomes are observable. This means that you should be able to see some evidence of whether or not learning has happened. To make sure that a learning outcome is observable, it has to have at its heart an observable verb.

To see how this works, compare the following learning outcomes:

1. Learners will understand active learning, constructivism, and social constructivism.
2. Learners will be able to define active learning, constructivism, and social constructivism.

The only difference between these two learning outcomes is the verb. "Define" is an observable action verb, because we can see or hear a learner taking this action by either writing or speaking a definition. The verb "understand," on the other hand, is a bit harder to see and measure. The only way to demonstrate that you "understand" something, is to demonstrate your understanding through some observable action (like writing a definition). With learning outcomes, while we might start with something like "understand" we always want to move toward a more specific, observable action.

Learning Outcomes: Examples and Counter-Examples:

Read through the following slideshow to see examples of specific, observable, and learner-centered learning outcomes. The slideshow also includes a list of commonly used learning-outcome verbs, and checklist for evaluating your learning outcomes.

Notebook iconIn your notebook: Identifying Learning Outcomes

Identifying learning outcomes

Take a look at the empathy mapping activity you did in the previous section.

Look for possible learning outcomes in your empathy map. Try to turn the breakthroughs you identified into learning outcomes. For help, check out Bloom's taxonomy, a popular collection of observable verbs for writing learning outcomes:

Make a list of learning outcomes based on your challenge. Write these down in your notebook and be ready to share with your team!

Notebook iconWith your team: Observable Learning Outcomes

Reviewing and improving learning outcomes

Work together as a team to review and improve your learning outcomes. You can use the following checklist to make sure your outcomes are specific, observable, and learner-centered.

  • Learner Centered: Make sure learners are the focus of the learning outcome by placing them as the subject of the sentence. Watch out for teacher-focused statements (e.g., "I will show...", "I will cover…" or "I will explain") that place the teacher at the center. Re-write teacher-centered statements from a learner's point of view.
  • Observable verbs: Replace verbs like "understand," "comprehend," and "know" with more specific and observable verbs. Ask yourself - if learners understand this idea, what could they do to demonstrate their understanding? The answer to that question should help you find an observable verb!
  • Get specific: Begin the process of breaking down large and complex learning outcomes into smaller ones. For each learning outcome you write, ask yourself, what are each of the things a learner would need to do to be successful?

Interested in learning more? Check out:

Saunders, L., & Wong, M. A. (2020). Establishing Learning Goals and Outcomes. In Instruction in Libraries and Information Centers. Windsor & Downs Press. https://iopn.library.illinois.edu/pressbooks/instructioninlibraries/chapter/establishing-learning-goals-and-outcomes/
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