Learning Outcomes vs. Learning Objectives
The distinction between learning outcomes and learning objectives is not universally recognized, and many instructors may find that the term ‘learning outcomes’ describes what they have already understood by the term ‘learning objectives.’ Some scholars make no distinction between the two terms; those who do usually suggest that learning outcomes are a subset or type of learning objective. Learning objectives, for example, may outline the material the instructor intends to cover or the disciplinary questions the class will address. By contrast, learning outcomes should focus on what the student should know and realistically be able to do by the end of an assignment, activity, class, or course. For this reason, learning outcomes often start with a version of the phrase “By the end of this course, students will…”
The same goals addressed by learning objectives can be equally addressed by learning outcomes, but by focusing on the application and integration of the course content from the perspective of the student, learning outcomes can more explicitly and directly address expectations for student learning.
University of Toronto, referenced from http://www.teaching.utoronto.ca/topics/coursedesign/learning-outcomes/outcomes-objectives.htm
Content, Skills, Values
These three areas can be used to identify and describe different aspects of learning that might take place in a course.
Content can be used to describe the disciplinary information covered in the course. This content might be vital to future work or learning in the area. A learning outcome focused on content might read:
- By the end of this course, students will be able recall the 5 major events leading up to the Riel Rebellion and describe their role in initiating the Rebellion.
Skills can refer to the disciplinary or generalizable skills that students should be able to employ by the conclusion of the class. A learning outcome focused on skills might read:
- By the end of this course, students will be able to define the characteristics and limitations of historical research.
Some learning outcomes might articulate desired values: attitudes or beliefs that are imparted or investigated in the course of learning in a field or discipline. In particular, value-oriented learning outcomes might focus on ways that knowledge or skills gained in the course will enrich students’ experiences throughout their lives. A learning outcome focused on values might read:
- By the end of this course, students will be able to articulate their personal responses to a literary work they have selected independently.
University of Toronto, referenced from http://www.teaching.utoronto.ca/topics/coursedesign/learning-outcomes/content-skills-values.htm
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.
Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives is particularly useful because it associates particular verbs with each level of learning. Although Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchy, each type of learning can be a valuable aspect of a course. Please see the end of this document for a list of verbs associated with each level of learning.
- 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.
University of Toronto, referenced from http://www.teaching.utoronto.ca/topics/coursedesign/learning-outcomes/characteristics.htm
Examples of Learning Outcomes
Good learning outcomes are focused on what the learner will know or be able to do by the end of a defined period of time and indicate how that knowledge or skill will be demonstrated.
- Upon completing this assignment, students will be able to provide accurate diagrams of cells and be able to classify cells from microscopic images.
- By the end of this course, students will be able to identify and develop data collection instruments and measures for planning and conducting sociological research.
- By the end of this workshop, participants will be able to identify and classify their spending habits and prepare a personal budget.
One unit of instruction – whether a course, assignment, or workshop – might have multiple learning outcomes that span a range levels of learning as described by Bloom’s Taxonomy and indicated by relevant, active verbs.
By the end of this course, students will be able to:
- predict the appearance and motion of visible celestial objects
- formulate scientific questions about the motion of visible celestial objects
- plan ways to model and/or simulate an answer to the questions chosen
- select and integrate information from various sources, including electronic and print resources, community resources, and personally collected data, to answer the questions chosen
- communicate scientific ideas, procedures, results, and conclusions using appropriate SI units, language, and formats
- describe, evaluate, and communicate the impact of research and other accomplishments in space technology on our understanding of scientific theories and principles and on other fields of endeavour [Adapted from http://www.erin.utoronto.ca/~astro/SNC1D.htm]
Learning outcomes can address content, skills, and long-term attitudes or values.
- By the end of this course, students will be able to categorize macroeconomic policies according to the economic theories from which they emerge.
- By the end of this unit, students will be able to describe the characteristics of the three main types of geologic faults (dip-slip, transform, and oblique) and explain the different types of motion associated with each.
- By the end of this course, students will be able to ask questions concerning language usage with confidence and seek effective help from reference sources.
- By the end of this course, students will be able to analyze qualitative and quantitative data, and explain how evidence gathered supports or refutes an initial hypothesis.
- By the end of this course, students will be able to work cooperatively in a small group environment.
- By the end of this course, students will be able to identify their own position on the political spectrum.
Learning outcomes should use specific language, and should clearly indicate expectations for student performance.
Learning outcomes are useful for all levels of instruction, and in a variety of contexts.
Beginning language course
By the end of this course students will be able to:
- identify the most frequently encountered endings for nouns, adjectives and verbs, as well as some of the more complicated points of grammar, such as aspect of the verb
- translate short unseen texts from Czech
- read basic material relating to current affairs using appropriate reference works, where necessary
- make themselves understood in basic everyday communicative situations [Adapted from http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/Slavonic/Czech12006.htm]
Graduate research methodologies class
By the end of this course, students will be able to:
- identify key measurement problems involved in the design and evaluation of social interventions and suggest appropriate solutions
- assess the strengths and weaknesses of alternative strategies for collecting, analyzing and interpreting data from needs analyses and evaluations in direct practice, program and policy interventions
- analyze qualitative data systematically by selecting appropriate interpretive or quantified content analysis strategies
- articulate implications of research findings for explanatory and practice theory development and for practice/program implementation
- instruct classmates and others in an advanced statistical or qualitative data analysis procedure [Adapted from http://ssw.unc.edu/doctoral/curriculum/descriptions.html]
University of Toronto, referenced from http://www.teaching.utoronto.ca/topics/coursedesign/learning-outcomes/examples.htm