About learning outcomes
Learning outcomes state in clear, plain language the skills and knowledge learners are expected to demonstrate in a program, course, training session or activity.
They guide instructors and instructional designers to select appropriate content, learning activities and assessment strategies.
At Royal Roads, we sometimes use the term "competency" interchangably with "learning outcome."
A learning outcome should be:
Often the learning outcome will indicate what the instructor will assess to determine the student's success.
Not all learning outcomes will be easy to measure; some of the most important outcomes can be the most challenging to measure.
Why use learning outcomes?
Designing your course around learning outcomes benefits students and instructors.
Learning outcomes bring transparency, fairness, and flexibility to curriculum design, instructional delivery and assessment.
The instructor will measure students' learning — and the level of competency they've achieved — against the intended result — the learning outcome.
For learners, their performance is assessed against set criteria, rather than against other learners.
Learning outcomes in action
Here are examples of prompts you can consider, depending on your role, to put learning outcomes in action:
- What skills and knowledge do I want the learners to demonstrate?
- How do I grade fairly?
- What am I expected to learn and demonstrate to my peers and instructors?
- I've been successful in my professional work, but I would like to have a greater understanding of what I'm doing well and where I can improve.
- My marks seem to be good, so why did I get an "In Progress?"
- If I were to hire a graduate of this program, what knowledge and skills could I expect them to demonstrate?
- Learning outcomes help inform other instructors and colleagues of the competencies and knowledge areas that are addressed by each course, and the program as a whole.
Benefits of using learning outcomes
Here's how the learning-outcomes approach is beneficial:
- makes explicit the purpose of the course or module
- helps instructors select and design materials more effectively by providing a framework for instruction
- helps instructors select a teaching strategy that is matched to the outcome
- ensures that assessments are based on the knowledge and skills delivered
- provides consistency of assessment of performance in multiple-cohort or cross-disciplinary courses or programs
- provides a means to measure whether learning has occurred over time by conducting several assessments using the same learning outcome
- allows transferable (e.g., workplace) skills to be evaluated in the context of any course or module
- provides flexibility in changing or adapting course content to better meet the needs of the learners, while maintaining the same learning outcomes (collaborative learning)
Teaching to the outcomes
As an instructor, you'll be looking for your students to demonstrate they've met the outcomes at different levels of learning.
Vary your instructional methods
In each program or course you facilitate, you'll get to choose which instructional methods you use to teach to the outcomes.
Varying the learning opportunities you offer helps meet the needs of all learners. It encourages them to expand their ability to work in different learning styles and preferences — for example, reflective, observational and oral.
Well-developed outcomes, activities and assessments will help students succeed in their learning.
When developing outcomes and assessment criteria, use language that describes what the learners will be able to know or do.
Choose verbs that are appropriate to the desired level within Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning.
This list of verbs will help you frame and coordinate the learning outcomes, learning activities, assessment strategies and criteria.