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How Do You Create Student Learning Outcomes?

Imagine you could guarantee that students in your course would learn to do approximately 6 things. What would those 6 most important things be?

Those essential components would become your learning outcomes. 

To generate ideas about what those things should be, you can draw on official course descriptions, look at commonalities among various approaches to the course, and reflect on what makes for truly excellent student work in this area.

Student learning outcomes for a course or other large learning experience should be pretty big ideas--they are not the same as the outcomes for a single activity or assignment.  There shouldn’t be too many of them: you should be able to count them on your two hands.  If you run out of fingers, you have too many, and they are probably too narrow.

When you begin to write your outcomes, the general structure usually looks like this:

Students will be able to ___(verb)____  ____(object)____

For example, “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.” (from the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, University Toronto)

When you review your learning outcomes, consider that they should be:

  • Clear: learning outcomes should be specific and focused, describing the standards for success as clearly as possible, even when the idea or process is complex.
  • Dynamic: while individual outcomes should be specific, instructors should be able to provide support for students to reach the outcome in diverse, adaptable ways.
  • Learner-centered: rather than explaining what the instructor will do in the course, good learning outcomes describe what the student will do. This helps both instructors and students focus on the experience of the learner, and helps the learner understand why that knowledge and those skills are useful and valuable to their personal, professional, and academic future.
  • Ambitious and Achievable. They should set high, realistic expectations to provide a benchmark for student success in and beyond the course.
  • Current: fields of study continue to progress and develop over time, and the learning outcomes should reflect the most up-to-date standards in the relevant field of study.
  • Contextual: they should reflect where the learning is taking place and how the learning is likely to be applied. For example, in designing outcomes for a course, you might consider the institution’s goals, the student population, and the local community, and might consider how the course might connect to transfer destinations or standardized exams in the field.

(Adapted from the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, University Toronto)