Describing Learning Outcomes

How learning outcomes for topics, courses and programs in public policy and management can be described

In describing learning outcomes on the Atlas, we aim to use a formulation that draws on those recommended in Developing Learning Outcomes: A Guide for Faculty, published by the University of Toronto Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI). Some of it has been reproduced in the Tips section below.

We will combine skills and content by using the phrase: “On successful completion of this [topic, course, program] students will have the skills and knowledge to be able to” and follow this by a bulleted list of abilities. The following sample phrases are drawn from ANU Crawford Learning Outcomes and Melbourne MPPM Learning Outcomes.

On successful completion of this [topic, course, program] students will have the skills and knowledge to be able to:

  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of xxx
  • Demonstrate a capacity to think independently about xxx
  • Conduct independent research on xxx
  • Contribute to the design and implementation of xxx
  • Analyze the relative advantages and disadvantages of xxx
  • Analyze and assess alternative approaches to xxx
  • Assess stakeholder needs and interests through an analysis of xxx
  • Critically apply concepts of xxx to
  • Critically appraise xxx in terms of their effectiveness and identify which xxx
  • Make convincing explanations of xxx
  • Take appropriate account of xxx in xxx
  • Make convincing recommendations for xxx
  • Present in written form arguments using xxx
  • Contribute to informed discussion on xxx
  • Develop, refine and present xxx
  • Effectively review and evaluate xxx
  • Evaluate xxx and recommend xxx
  • Appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of xxx
  • Understand the drivers of, and successes and failures in, attempts to reform xxx
  • Define and explain xxx
  • Formulate research questions, develop arguments, and choose proper research design to xxx
  • Plan and implement a xxx

Tips for Describing Learning Outcomes from U of T’s CTSI

(http://teaching.webservices.utoronto.ca/Assets/Teaching+Digital+Assets/CTSI+1/CTSI+Digital+Assets/PDFs/outcomes-guide.pdf, accessed 15 December 2015.)

Good learning outcomes focus on the application and integration of the knowledge and skills acquired in a particular unit of instruction (e.g. activity, course program, etc.), and emerge from a process of reflection on the essential contents of a course. More specifically, good 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. (See tables below for examples of specific outcomes and active verbs.)
  • Should be flexible: while individual outcomes should be specific, instructors should feel comfortable adding, removing, or adjusting learning outcomes over the length of a course if initial outcomes prove to be inadequate.
  • Are focused on the learner: rather than explaining what the instructor will do in the course, good learning outcomes describe knowledge or skills that the student will employ, and help the learner understand why that knowledge and those skills are useful and valuable to their personal, professional, and academic future.
  • Are realistic, not aspirational: all passing students should be able to demonstrate the knowledge or skill described by the learning outcome at the conclusion of the course. In this way, learning outcomes establish standards for the course.
  • Focus on the application and integration of acquired knowledge and skills: good learning outcomes reflect and indicate the ways in which the described knowledge and skills may be used by the learner now and in the future.
  • Indicate useful modes of assessment and the specific elements that will be assessed: good learning outcomes prepare students for assessment and help them feel engaged in and empowered by the assessment and evaluation process.
  • Offer a timeline for completion of the desired learning.
Vague outcome More precise outcome
By the end of the course, I expect students to increase their organization, writing, and presentation skills. By the end of the course, students will be able to:

• produce professional quality writing

• effectively communicate the results of their research findings and analyses to fellow classmates in an oral presentation

By the end of this course, students will be able to use secondary critical material effectively and to think independently. By the end of this course, students will be able to evaluate the theoretical and methodological foundations of secondary critical material and employ this evaluation to defend their position on the topic.

Each assignment, activity, or course might usefully employ between approximately five and ten learning outcomes; this number allows the learning outcomes to cover a variety of knowledge and skills while retaining a focus on essential elements of the course.

USEFUL VERBS FOR DEVELOPING LEARNING OUTCOMES

This list of useful verbs for creating learning outcomes is arranged according to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, which identifies different cognitive domains associated with levels of learning. Bloom’s taxonomy was developed in 1956, and was revised in 2001 by Bloom’s colleagues, Lorin Anderson and David Krathwahl.

REMEMBERING: recall of information

 

UNDERSTANDING: demonstration of comprehension

 

APPLYING: applying knowledge in a new context

 

ANALYZING: supporting assertions through the use of evidence and arguments identifying causes and patterns EVALUATING: coming to a judgment on the value of information or the validity of arguments CREATING: combining or grouping knowledge to come to new conclusions
• arrange

• cite

• collect

• define

• describe

• duplicate

• enumerate

• find

• identify

• locate

• memorize

• record

• recognize

• match

• relate

• select

• name

• label

• list

• order

• quote

• recall

• repeat

• reproduce

• select

• show

• state

 

• associate

• classify

• compare

• contrast

• convert

• describe

• estimate

• explain

• extend

• generalize

• give examples

• identify

• interpret

• justify

• locate

• outline

• paraphrase

• predict

• recognize

• report

• restate

• review

• select

• summarize

• trace

• translate

 

• apply

• calculate

• chart

• choose

• classify

• complete

• compute

• construct

• contribute

• develop

• discover

• dramatize

• employ

• experiment

• extend

• illustrate

• implement

• instruct

• interpret

• modify

• operate

• participate

• practice

• predict

• show

• solve

• teach

• test

• use

 

• advertise

• analyze

• break down

• categorize

• classify

• collect

• compare

• connect

• contrast

• correlate

• criticize

• diagram

• differentiate

• distinguish

• divide

• establish

• examine

• explain

• identify

• illustrate

• infer

• investigate

• order

• outline

• prioritize

• question

• select

• separate

• verify

 

• appraise

• argue

• assess

• choose

• conclude

• convince

• criticize

• critique

• debate

• decide

• defend

• determine

• discriminate

• evaluate

• grade

• integrate

• interpret

• judge

• justify

• predict

• prioritize

• rate

• recommend

• reframe

• score

• select

• support

 

• adapt

• anticipate

• arrange

• assemble

• collect

• combine

• compile

• construct

• decide

• design

• develop

• facilitate

• formulate

• generate

• generalize

• imagine

• incorporate

• individualize

• integrate

• invent

• modify

• negotiate

• organize

• plan

• propose

• rearrange

• reconstruct

• reorganize

• revise

• select

• structure

• substitute

• validate

 

Page created by: Ian Clark, last updated 15 December 2015.