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Writing Course Outcomes

Definitions of terms:  somewhat dependant on the source, but generally:

Goals = Represent overall mission of the program, school, department, course, etc.  

Objectives = Broader perspective on what generally students should know, value or do.

Outcomes = What students should demonstrate/represent relative to objective. 

A learning outcome is a brief, clear statement about what you expect students to demonstrate (in terms of knowledge, behavior, or values) due to their participation in a given learning activity.

1. Can be understood by students, faculty, and individuals outside of the discipline.

2. Are related to course, program and college goals.

3. Are specific enough to be evaluated (i.e., each examines something discrete).

4. Are enough in number/scope to cover the entire program/course.

5. (Program) Reflect the unique strengths/ character of the program.

 Learning outcomes specify both an observable behavior and the object of that behavior.

For example:

    Students will be able to write a research paper.

 In addition, the criterion could also be specified:

    Students will be able to write a research paper in the appropriate scientific style.

 Optionally, the condition under which the behavior occurs can be specified:

     At the end of their field research, students will be able to write a research paper in the
     appropriate scientific style.

 Note that the verb you choose will help you focus on what you assess.  For example:

     Students will be able to do research. 

The verb do is vague.  Do you mean identify an appropriate research question, review the literature, establish hypotheses, use research technology, collect data, analyze data, interpret results, draw conclusions, recommend further research, or all of those?  Each of the verbs in those statements is appropriately specific.

More examples.  The more specific example is easier to assess than the broad example:

A.  Broad: 

Students will demonstrate knowledge of the history, literature and function of the theatre, including works from various periods and cultures.

     More specific:

          Students will be able to explain the theoretical bases of various dramatic genres and
          illustrate them with examples from plays of different eras.

     Even more specific, specifying the conditions:

           During the senior dramatic literature course, the students will be able to explain the
           theoretical bases of various dramatic genres and illustrate them with examples from
           plays of different eras.

B.   Broad:

            The student will be able to discuss philosophical questions.

      More specific:

             The student is able to develop relevant examples and to express
             the significance of philosophical questions.

C.    Broad:

             Students will be able to think in an interdisciplinary manner.

       More specific:

             Asked to solve a problem in the student’s field, the student will be able to draw
             from theories, principles, and/or knowledge from other disciplines to help solve the

 D.   Broad:

             Each student will be able to function as a team member.

       More specific:

             Each student will reflect upon his or her contributions to a team effort, ability to
             accept other team members as resources, and willingness to accept compromises
             if required to achieve a team goal.

 E.   Broad:

             Students will understand how to use technology effectively.

       More specific:

             Each student will be able to use word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and
             presentation graphics in preparing their final research project and report.

 Summary of assessable learning outcomes:

     1.  They use verbs that indicate how the student work can be observed.

2.  They focus on what the student should do, not what the instructor teaches.

3.  They reflect what students should be able to do after a course ends, not simply what
     they do during the course.

4.   They usually can be assessed in more than one way.

5.   They can be understood by someone outside the discipline.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives offers verbs many have found useful as they write learning objectives.

Knowledge                  Comprehension                       Application

define                           annotate                            apply

describe                        explain                               demonstrate

recall                            give examples                      illustrate

state                            predict                               solve

list                               infer                                   manipulate

summarize                     interpret                              interview

identify                         generalize                            construct

point to                         calculate                             draw

match                           convert                               perform

Analysis                       Synthesis                                 Evaluation

subdivide                      write                                evaluate

compare                       create                              assess

contrast                       compose                           critique

identify                        formulate                           prioritize

infer                            outline                               defend

distinguish                    plan                                   judge

diagram                        conceive                            recommend

illustrate                       hypothesize                        defend

categorize                     predict                              select


Sample affective learning verbs:

Volunteer, support, question, praise, join, defend, challenge, attempt        

Sample psychomotor learning verbs:

Dance, sing, draw, bend, operate, reach, relax, shorten, lift, throw, hit

Page updated April 19, - 2006 Geoff Mathay


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