Understanding learning outcomes

Intended learning outcomes (ILO) are descriptions from the teachers’ point of view of things which they want their students to be capable when the course is finished.  They need to be able to be measured so that the teacher can tell whether or not the students have indeed gained the intended understanding and abilities.

Taxonomies of learning can help here.  Compass uses two different taxonomies: Bloom’s taxonomy of the cognitive domain (or Bloom’s for short) and the STRIP taxonomy, adapted from SOLO.  While teachers don’t need to understand these in huge amounts of detail, a passing familiarity will help.

How can I write learning outcomes for my paper?

Try completing this sentence:  “Students in __your paper name__ will demonstrate their mastery of __some concept__ by…”… and whatever follows is your intended learning outcome.  Alternatively, check out the examples in the table below.

Instruction Not so good … Why not? Better
1. Write down the thing (the concept, the subject, the equation, the method: a noun) which the student is learning about Mathematics Far too broad.  Be specific. Differential equations
2. Write down the action which the student will take to show their mastery of the thing Understand and critique “Understand” is not measurable.  Students need to be able to demonstrate their mastery by doing this thing, so they need to be visible and measurable.

“Critique” is measurable, but is a different level of sophistication than “understand” on Bloom’s taxonomy.  Rather stick to one verb, or at least verbs at the same cognitive level.

3. Include adjectives, context or methods by/in which the doing will occur Really well Doesn’t provide any information to the student about the level they need to reach or the context in which they’ll be tested Use the substitution method manually

First order, linear, ordinary

4. Put it all together Understand mathematics really well Apply the substitution method to solve first-order, linear, ordinary differential equations manually

Some common mistakes are to use verbs which are not able to be measured.  For example, verbs like understand may be what you want students to accomplish, but they don’t help anyone know when it’s happened.  Learning outcome statements represent the way in which students will demonstrate that they have indeed understood; the verbs used must be demonstrable and measurable.

Having demonstrable learning outcomes helps everyone.  It helps students to evaluate and appreciate their own progress, and it helps staff to write assessments which are appropriate for the overall outcomes of the paper.  This is described in the Understanding alignment in assessment page, as well as in the Assessments, Activities, and Access Skills pages.