Design for learning — Design your course — Define learning outcomes

Define learning outcomes

Intended learning outcomes are statements that tell students what is meant to be achieved by the end of a course. They should be specific, measurable, realistic and student-centered – and often observable. They inform the assessment design of your course.

Higher education learning outcomes are usually based on one of two frameworks:

  1. Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) works on the principle that students’ build their knowledge on former learning to achieve higher levels of knowledge.
  2. The SOLO taxonomy (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) (Biggs and Collis, 2014) describes a means of classifying learning outcomes in terms of their complexity..

The following table compares Bloom’s and the SOLO taxonomies with the descriptions and verbs for each level; these can be used to write your intended learning outcomes.

A comparison between SOLO and Bloom’s taxonomies
SOLO Taxonomy (Biggs and Collis, 1982) Bloom’s Taxonomy revised by Anderson and Krathwohl (2001)
Level & Cognitive Domain Description Action Verbs Level & Cognitive Domain Expectation Action Verbs
1. Pre-structural Students are acquiring bits of unconnected information, which have no organisation.   1. Remembering Retrieving, recalling or recognising knowledge from memory. Define, describe, identify, label, list, match, name, outline, reproduce, select, state, recall, record, recognise, repeat draw on, recount…
2. Uni-structural Simple and obvious connections are made, but their significance is not grasped. Define, describe, list, identify, name, follow procedure… 2. Understanding Showing understanding by interpreting what is known in one context when used in another context. Estimate, explain, extend, generalise, paraphrase, rewrite, summarise, clarify, express, review, discuss, locate, report, express, identify, illustrate, interpret, represent differentiate…
3. Multi-structural A number of connections may be made, but the meta-connections between them are missed, as is their significance for the whole. Combine, describe, enumerate, list… 3. Applying Carrying out or using a procedure through executing or implementing. Apply, change, compute, calculate, demonstrate, discover, manipulate, modify, operate, predict, prepare, produce relate, show, solve, use, schedule, employ, sketch, intervene, practise, or illustrate….
4. Relational The student is now able to appreciate the significance of the parts in relation to the whole. Analyse apply, argue, compare/contrast, criticise, explain, justify, relate… 4. Analysing Breaking material or concepts into parts, determining how the parts relate or interrelate to one another or to an overall structure or purpose. Analyse, diagram, classify, contrast, categorise, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, inspect, illustrate, infer, relate, select, survey, calculate, debate, compare, criticise…
5. Extended Abstract Connections are made within the given subject area and beyond it, able to generalise and transfer the principles and ideas underlying the specific instance. Create, formulate, generate, predict, theorise, hypothesize, reflect… 5. Evaluating Making judgments based on criteria and standards through checking and critiquing. Appraise, argue, compare, conclude, contrast, criticise, discriminate, judge, evaluate, revise, select, justify, critique, recommend, relate, value, validate, summarise…
      6. Creating Putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole; reorganising elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning or producing. Compose, design, plan, assemble, prepare, construct, propose, formulate, set up, invent, develop, devise, summarise, produce…

Adapted from Massey University (n.d.).

Examples

The key to writing effective learning outcomes is to use active, measurable words—such as those described in the previous table—to describe tasks that you want students to be capable of at the end of a course. They should also be written in clear language so that students are able to clearly infer/connect how the text within the learning outcome might relate to the Graduate Profile Capabilities.

By the end of this course, students will be able to…
Intended learning outcome Graduate Profile Capabilities

COMLAW 101 Law in a Business Environment

Explain the nature of law and its application in New Zealand’s constitutional framework, including the functioning of Government and the Treaty of Waitangi.

This learning outcome opens with an action word and is linked to these Graduate Profile Capabilities:

1. Disciplinary knowledge and practice.
6. Social and environmental responsibilities.

FINANCE 251 Financial Management

Work collaboratively to conduct capital budgeting analysis and apply financial problem-solving skills to evaluate long term investment decisions.

This learning outcome to be linked to these Graduate Profile Capabilities:

3. Solution seeking.
4. Communication and engagement.

 

Remember, course directors are responsible for editing and submitting digital course outlines, and these undergo an approval process.

 

References

Anderson, L.W. (Ed.), Krathwohl, D.R. (Ed.), Airasian, P.W., Cruikshank, K.A., Mayer, R.E., Pintrich, P.R., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M.C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Complete edition). New York: Longman.

Biggs, J. B., & Collis, K. F. (1982). Evaluation the quality of learning: the SOLO taxonomy (structure of the observed learning outcome). Academic Press.

Biggs, J. B., & Collis, K. F. (2014). Evaluating the quality of learning: The SOLO taxonomy (Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome). Academic Press.

Massey University. (n.d.). Learning Outcomes. https://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/fms/AVC%20Academic/Teaching%20and%20Learning%20Cenrtres/Learning-outcomes.pdf?88EDEC1C9F92D446FEBA4903793B7080