Characteristics of Good Learning Outcomes


Good learning outcomes focus on the application and integration of the knowledge and skills acquired in a particular unit of instruction (e.g. activity, course program, etc.), and emerge from a process of reflection on the essential contents of a course. More specifically, good learning outcomes:

Are very specific, and use active language – and verbs in particular – that make expectations clear. This informs students of the standards by which they will be assessed, and ensures that student and instructor goals in the course are aligned. Where possible, avoid terms like understand, demonstrate, or discuss that can be interpreted in many ways.

Please see Appendix B for a list of useful verbs.

By the end of the course, I expect students to increase their organization, writing, and presentation skills.

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • produce professional quality writing
  • effectively communicate the results of their research findings and analyses to fellow classmates in an oral presentation

By the end of this course, students will be able to use secondary critical material effectively and to think independently.

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.

  • Should be flexible: while individual outcomes should be specific, instructors should feel comfortable adding, removing, or adjusting learning outcomes over the length of a course if initial outcomes prove to be inadequate.
  • Are focused on the learner: rather than explaining what the instructor will do in the course, good learning outcomes describe knowledge or skills that the student will employ, and help the learner understand why that knowledge and those skills are useful and valuable to their personal, professional, and academic future.
  • Are realistic, not aspirational: all passing students should be able to demonstrate the knowledge or skill described by the learning outcome at the conclusion of the course. In this way, learning outcomes establish standards for the course.
  • Focus on the application and integration of acquired knowledge and skills: good learning outcomes reflect and indicate the ways in which the described knowledge and skills may be used by the learner now and in the future.
  • Indicate useful modes of assessment and the specific elements that will be assessed: good learning outcomes prepare students for assessment and help them feel engaged in and empowered by the assessment and evaluation process.
  • Offer a timeline for completion of the desired learning.

Each assignment, activity, or course might usefully employ between approximately five and ten learning outcomes; this number allows the learning outcomes to cover a variety of knowledge and skills while retaining a focus on essential elements of the course.

When writing your outcomes, keep in mind…

Learning outcomes should be SMART (TT):

SPEAK TO THE LEARNER: learning outcomes should address what the learner will know or be able to do at the completion of the course

MEASURABLE: learning outcomes must indicate how learning will be assessed

APPLICABLE: learning outcomes should emphasize ways in which the learner is likely to use the knowledge or skills gained

REALISTIC: all learners who complete the activity or course satisfactorily should be able to demonstrate the knowledge or skills addressed in the outcome

TIME-BOUND: the learning outcome should set a deadline by which the knowledge or skills should be acquired;

TRANSPARENT: should be easily understood by the learner; and

TRANSFERABLE: should address knowledge and skills that will be used by the learner in a wide variety of contexts

The SMART(TT) method of goal setting is adapted from  Blanchard, K., & Johnson, S. (1981). The one minute manager. New York: Harper Collin