The Center for Excellence in Teaching and LearningInstructional Technology's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Learning Outcomes

Why should I care about learning outcomes?

Learning outcomes define your course. They suggest the materials you will use, your strategies for teaching, and the tools you use to measure student achievement.

Where can I find my course outcomes?

The outcomes for every course are listed on the course syllabi. Course syllabi can be accessed on the Master Syllabi webpage.

What if the outcomes don't match the way my course is taught?

This isn't surprising: The world changes, and our courses must change as well. The course outcomes often lag behind. This can be a problem, though, if multiple instructors teach the same course. If every instructor teaches to a different set of outcomes, student learning will vary dramatically.

If you think your course outline is out-of-step, talk with your Division Coordinator about an update. There is a process for this, and they will want your input and advice.

How do course outcomes define my course?

The course outcomes tell us what a student should know, feel, or be able to do at the end of the course. Because students need a chance to show us they can do these things, we provide opportunities (projects, discussions, tests, performances) where they can demonstrate in a concrete way that they have reached the outcomes. This is how outcomes influence our choice of assessments.

Students typically have to learn a number of skills or perspectives to be able to reach a particular outcome. As instructors we know what these skills are, and we select course materials (textbooks, handouts, websites, etc.) based on how they contribute to the development of those skills. Furthermore, because instructional time is limited, we make decisions about teaching methods and activities based on their ability to help students acquire the necessary skills. Outcomes, then, influence the methods and materials we select.

What do "good" outcomes look like?

The best outcomes are written with an eye to how the student will use the course information "out there" in the real world. Outcomes frequently suggest authentic tasks that a professional in that subject area might be engaged in as part of his or her work. Anthropology students might complete a partial ethnography; Human Services students might develop a treatment plan for a sample client.

Outcomes should also be learner-focused. This means that they describe what the learner will be able to do, rather than what the instructor will do. Outcomes should also be measurable. This is not to imply that they must be simplistic; rather, they need to manifest in some quantifiable way that is external to the learner.

Outcomes will vary in their level of complexity. For example, an introductory course may of necessity focus on basic concepts and vocabulary in that field. We would expect that many of the verbs in the outcome statements would be at the level of knowing or understanding. On the other hand, outcomes for more advanced courses would likely focus on more complex, integrative processes like creating or analyzing.

How do course outcomes relate to the "unit-level objectives" that are part of the QM standards?

"Unit-level objectives" are objectives for actual units of instruction (days, weeks, modules, or units, depending on the design of your course). These objectives describe the component skills and understandings that students need to be able to reach the outcomes for the course.