Writing Learning Outcomes
Learning outcomes convey what students are able to do at the end of a course or program. They must be observable, realistic, measurable, and obtainable. The challenge in writing them is to use the words that most closely convey the expected outcomes.
Georgian College Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs) and Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) are introduced with similar stems that state the graduate or student “will have reliably demonstrated the ability to…” Consequently, learning outcomes need to start with observable action verbs (reflecting knowledge, skills or attitudes) at the appropriate level (credential, semester, or course sequence), followed by the context of performance.
Consider the following examples:
- apply the principles of continuous quality improvement to processes and deliverables in a workplace setting.
- appreciate the principles of continuous quality improvement in the workplace.
The first example is a better learning outcome. It uses a strong, measurable verb and provides a specific context for the outcome. The second example is weaker. It uses a verb that is difficult to measure, and a context that is too general.
Remember: learning outcomes = college stem + appropriate verb + context
Outcome Verbs and Bloom’s Taxonomy
When choosing verbs for learning outcomes, it is important to consider that they may be used in a higher or lower order depending on the context of the course. One of the easiest ways of doing this is by using Bloom’s taxonomy, a widely recognized learning theory in post-secondary education.
Bloom’s Taxonomy uses a pyramid to express the higher order or level of expertise required to achieve each measurable student outcome. It is useful in writing learning outcomes and in program and course design because the different levels can help demonstrate how learners should move through the process of learning from the most fundamental, remembering and understanding, to the more complex, evaluating and creating.
Bloom’s taxonomy is separated into three domains:
- the cognitive domain, which focuses on the intellectual skills or knowledge;
- the psychomotor domain, which focuses on the physical ability of learners to accomplish and perform movement and skills; and
- the affective domain, which focuses on the attitudes, values and appreciation of learners.
Students should develop their skills in each of the domains, as appropriate to the program of study. The Outcome Verbs List provides examples of good verbs at all of Bloom’s levels of learning in the cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains.
Things to consider
It’s easy to lose sight of the goals when writing outcomes, so when drafting the outcomes, keep the following questions in mind:
- Does the outcome reflect the level of the credential? For example, is the course a certificate, diploma or degree?
- Is the learner a novice or an expert? For example, is the course in the first semester or in the final semester?
- If the course has a prerequisite, do the learning outcomes reflect more advanced understanding of the material?
- Does the outcome reflect meaningful learning?
- Are the outcomes too vague? Can you measure the outcome? Is the outcome too specific?
Refer to the Office of Academic Quality for support in writing Program and Course Learning Outcomes.