Best Practice

Writing Learning Outcomes

In one of the first posts on this site, around constructive alignment, the point was made how learning content must always have due regard to learning outcomes. UCC’s own Declan Kennedy has written extensively and authoritatively on this and should be obligatory reading for anyone involved in developing learning content.

I won’t purport to synopsise Declan’s work here, but in my experience in working in the ‘elearning industry’ for almost 20 years, I feel I might be able to offer some initial guidance at least. So here then are my key points to consider:

  • Learning outcomes help us to focus on what is to be learned rather than what we wish to teach. Constant reference back to these outcomes will ensure content remains focussed on students and not teaching.
  • While there are other references, Bloom’s Taxonomy has become for many the default standard. I would recommend always having a copy to hand. Here is a link to a nice succinct infographic.
  • You can’t expect students to demonstrate higher order cognition if you don’t cover lower order thinking skills and areas first. For instance, before a student can assess a technical process, they would need to be able to define and describe it and perhaps compare it to other processes.
  • Consider the level of your students and the qualification to which they are working. An NFQ Level 9 award requires significantly more mastery of content and demonstration of knowledge than simply being able to define, describe, list, distinguish or categorise items. Expect to use verbs from the higher order cognitive domains of Bloom’s Taxonomy when writing learning outcomes for these courses.
  • Don’t use the verb ‘understand’ when writing outcomes – generally education is about trying to facilitate understanding through a range of smaller guided learning activities.
  • Don’t qualify verbs when writing outcomes – keep them simple and direct. If you want a student to be able to analyse something, you don’t need to overwrite the outcome to redundantly say ‘critically analyse’ for instance.
  • Think about how assessment activities will allow students to provide evidence of attainment of a learning outcome. If your outcome is just about listing things for example, then the student doesn’t need to write a whole lot. But if you need the student to be devise an experiment, then a lot more supporting and descriptive text is probably required.

If you’re in the process of writing or reviewing learning outcomes for any courses and would like to learn more, UCC’s Instructional Design Team would be more than happy to go through these with you.

Happy writing….