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Learning outcomes and alignment
This document is part of a larger collection of documents on online instruction from the Center for Teaching, Learning and Mentoring's Instructional Resources KnowledgeBase. See more online instruction documents from that collection.
Learning outcomes describe what learners will be able to do upon completion of a course or instructional unit. Educators often refer to learning objectives as student learning outcomes, learning goals, performance outcomes, instructional objectives, behavioral objectives, or core competencies. Well-crafted courses have learning objectives that describe overall high-level objectives for the course (the big ideas) and more detailed learning objectives for each unit or module of content.
Why Is It Important?
Carefully written learning outcomes provide students with a roadmap explaining where they are going in the course and what to expect when they arrive. They describe the intended purposes and expected results of the course, unit, or activity. Unit or module learning objectives also provide students with benchmarks by which they can measure their progress toward achieving the course learning outcomes.
Learning outcomes also guide instructors to align critical course components, such as student assessments, instructional materials, course activities, and course technology. The major course components work together when aligned to ensure students achieve the desired learning outcomes. In an online course especially, objectives help instructors guide their choices about the content that needs to be included—what is truly important versus what is just nice to have.
How to Put Into Practice?
How to Write Measurable Learning Outcomes
- Identify an object, thing, or idea (usually a noun) you want students to learn. Consider the desired knowledge dimension: factual, conceptual, procedural, or metacognitive. Example: The seven steps of the research process (procedural).
- Identify the level of knowledge expected. It’s important to choose the appropriate level of learning because this directly influences the type of assessment that you choose to measure your students’ learning. (Refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid that follows, where there are six levels of learning: Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating.) Example: To understand the seven research process steps (understanding).
- Select a verb (an action) that is observable to describe the behavior at the appropriate level of learning. Many verbs are listed here. Example: Explain these seven steps.
- Add additional criteria to indicate how or when the outcome will be observable to add context for the student. Example: Describe the seven research process steps when writing a paper.
Note: A smaller number of well‐written outcomes communicate the purpose of a course better than a larger number. The number of objectives depends on what students “need” to learn for that week, unit, module, or course. While there are many things it would be “nice” to know, always ask yourself:
- What do they “need” to know?
- Is what they need to know “worth” learning?
Also ask: What is the one thing this week that you want students to learn and be able to apply? Recall that the objectives, materials, activities, and assessments should all align to ensure that the students learn and apply this one thing.