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Course Learning Outcomes

Creating learning outcomes is the process of identifying the key concepts or skills that students are expected to learn during specific courses. It is important to communicate the expected learning outcomes to keep students focused on the purpose behind their coursework.

Expected learning outcome statements describe:

  • What faculty members want students to know at the end of the course.
  • What faculty members want students to be able to do at the end of the course.

Learning outcomes have three major characteristics:

  • They specify an action by the students/learners that is observable.
  • They specify an action by the students/learners that is measurable.
  • They specify an action that is done by the students/learners, (rather than the faculty members).

“Effectively developed, expected learning outcome statements should possess all three of these characteristics. When this is done, the expected learning outcomes for a course are designed so that they can be assessed,” (Suskie, 2004).

Developing Outcomes Through Purpose

One of the first steps in identifying the expected learning outcomes for a course is identifying the purpose of teaching in the course. By clarifying the purpose of the course, faculty can help discover the main topics or themes related to students’ learning. These themes help to outline the expected learning outcomes for the course.

Finding the course purpose involves the following questions:

  • What role does this course play within the major?
  • How is the course unique or different from other courses?
  • Why should/do students take this course? What essential knowledge or skills should they gain from this experience?
  • What knowledge or skills from this course will students need to have mastered to perform well in future classes or jobs?
  • Why is this course important for students to take?

Using Action Words for Expectation

When stating expected learning outcomes, it is important to use verbs that describe exactly what the learner(s) will be able to do upon completion of the course.

Examples of good action words to include in expected learning outcome statements:

Compile, identify, create, plan, revise, analyze, design, select, utilize, apply, demonstrate, prepare, use, compute, discuss, explain, predict, assess, compare, rate, critique, outline, or evaluate.

There are some verbs that are unclear in the context of an expected learning outcome statement (e.g., know, be aware of, appreciate, learn, understand, comprehend, become familiar with). These words are often vague, have multiple interpretations, or are simply difficult to observe or measure (American Association of Law Libraries, 2005). It is best to avoid using these terms when creating expected learning outcome statements.

Assessing Learning Based on Outcomes

Systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence through formal assessment activities is necessary to determine how well the students’ learning matches faculty expectations for what students will learn. Such assessments activities include quantitative assessment such as exams or papers as well as qualitative assessment activities such as class discussions or problem-solving exercises. These expectations should coincide with the stated expected learning outcomes for the course.

Faculty members should use this evidence/assessment of student learning to provide feedback to students about their learning (or lack thereof) AND adjust their teaching methods and/or students’ learning behaviors to ensure greater student learning (Maki, 2004).