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SALEIE Project | Policy Hub | Module Specification

Higher Education Policy Hub:
What makes a good learning outcome?

Introduction

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This note considers the characteristics of good learning outcomes as used in the specification of academic modules and/or programmes. All modules offered as part of an academic course, programme or award should be defined, in part, through a set of learning outcomes, the programme learning outcomes should map to the individual module learning outcomes which make up the overall module.

In general good learning outcomes are learner focused and are a very specific statements of what the student should be able to do after they have completed the module or programme. They are best-expressed using verbs with clear articulation of the expectations. Learning outcomes can be mapped to cognitive level and, if this is recommended by the SALEIE project team, the module and/or programme can be more easily checked to ensure it is developing students to its target achievement level (as per the European Qualifications Framework) and whether different academic years in the programme progressively develop student skills. The following is a quote from the University of Toronto:

"Learning Outcomes are very specific, and use active language, and verbs in particular, that make expectations clear. This informs students of the standards by which they will be assessed, and ensures that student and instructor goals in the course are aligned. Where possible, avoid terms like understand, demonstrate, or discuss that can be interpreted in many ways. Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives is particularly useful because it associates particular verbs with each level of learning. Although Bloom's Taxonomy is a hierarchy, each type of learning can be a valuable aspect of a course."

Learning outcomes should be realistic in that they should be achievable by any diligent student undertaking the module. This makes the following assumptions:

  • the learning outcomes are relevant to the module or programme and this relevance is seen or explained to the student;

  • that students are only allowed to take the module if they meet required academic pre-requisites;

  • that the learning objectives can be achieved by the student in the time allocated to study for the module or programme is reasonable;

  • achievement of the learning outcome can be demonstrated in a manner that is observable and objectively testable;

  • be appropriate for the academic level of the module or programme.


The generic structure of a learning outcome is that it should define what it is the student is required to be able to do, what it is that is required to be done and the expected standard by which the demonstration will be evaluated, the benchmark. It may also contain the conditions or situation under which the outcome should be demonstrated.

Learning Outcome Verbs

Learning outcomes, as stated above, indicate the cognitive level the student is required to work at in order to demonstrate their ability. Blooms Taxonomy is a useful model for identifying and placing actions at the different cognitive levels. The following list may be useful as a starting point for choosing verbs appropriate to each level.

Knowledge

Knowledge level learning outcomes indicate information retention and can be tested using verbs such as:

Define

Describe

Draw on

Identify

Label

List

Match

Name

Outline

Recall

Recognize

Record

Recount

Repeat

Reproduce

Select

State

 

 

 


Comprehension

Comprehension shows understanding of the meaning and can be tested using verbs such as:

Clarify

Convert

Defend

Discuss

Distinguish

Estimate

Explain

Express

Extend

Generalize

Give Examples

Illustrate

Infer

Judge

Locate

Paraphrase

Predict

Recognize

Restate

Review

Rewrite

Summarise

 

 

 


Application

Application shows ability to use what they have learned in new situations or contexts and can be tested using verbs such as:

Change

Compute

Demonstrate

Discover

Employ

Illustrate

Intervene

Manipulate

Modify

Operate

Practice

Predict

Prepare

Produce

Relate

Schedule

Show

Sketch

Solve

Use


Analysis

Analysis is about deconstructing something into its component parts so the underlying structure can be understood and can be tested using verbs such as:

Analyse

Appraise

Break Down

Calculate

Compare

Contrast

Criticise

Debate

Differentiate

Discriminate

Distinguish

Illustrate

Infer

Investigate

Make A Diagram

Make An Inventory

Question

Relate

Select

Test


Synthesis

Synthesis is creating something new from parts they have learned or discovered. It can be tested using verbs such as:

Arrange

Assemble

Categorize

Combine

Compose

Construct

Design

Develop

Devise

Invent

Modify

Organize

Plan

Prepare

Produce

Propose

Rearrange

Revise

Rewrite

Synthesise


Evaluation

Evaluating involves making judgements on how effective something is in relation to the specification. To evaluate something is at a higher cognitive activity level than synthesize so the complexity should be appropriately higher. It can be tested using verbs such as:

Choose between (usually with a justification)

Appraise

Compare

Criticize

Contrast

Conclude (after a comparison)

Discriminate

Estimate

Evaluate

Interpret

Measure (this should be used carefully at this level as simply measuring a parameter such as voltage using a voltmeter is not an "evaluation" level activity)

Justify

Judge

Rate

Revise

Select

 

 

 

 


Example Learning Outcome

The following example shows a learning outcome and how it can be improved.

Learning outcome: "By the end of the course, I expect students to increase their organization, writing, and presentation skills."

Critique: Use of the word "I" is not good in learning outcome statements as it focuses attention on the teacher rather than the student; further this statement is vague in specific outcome, it just states and improvement in skills is expected, the amount of increase or the target output standard is not stated.

More precise statements: "By the end of the course, students will be able to effectively communicate the results of their research by demonstrating they are able to:

  • Produce an article suitably formatted for publication in a defined journal.

  • Deliver a 15 minute oral presentation to peers and academic supervisors."

Critique: This revised statement is improved in that the student should be clear that they are expected to be able to produce a formatted publication appropriate for a technical journal and give a presentation to a stated audience.



Producing Learning Outomes

>The University of Western Australia has produced a very comprehensive process description with useful tips on producing learning outcomes.

University of Southern California, Division of Student Affairs Assessment Team, "Writing Learning Outcomes"


Additional Resources you may find useful


Additional Resources you may find useful:

The University of Western Australia has produced a very comprehensive process description with useful tips on producing learning outcomes.
University of Southern California, Division of Student Affairs Assessment Team, "Writing Learning Outcomes" http://www.web.uwa.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/106610/Developing-Learning-Outcomes.pdf

Resources you might find useful

http://www.aallnet.org/Archived/Education-and-Events/cpe/outcomes.html

http://www.lse.ac.uk/intranet/staff/humanResources/learningAndDevelopment/learnForYou/yourguidetowritinggoodlearningoutcomes.aspx

http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsld/resources/writing_learning_outcomes.html

http://www.library.illinois.edu/infolit/learningoutcomes.html

https://tll.mit.edu/help/intended-learning-outcomes

http://ctl.byu.edu/collections/developing-learning-outcomes

http://ctl.utexas.edu/teaching/course_design/learning_outcomes