Learning Outcomes: Definition, Characteristics and Writing Principles

The learning outcomes that students are expected to achieve at the end of a certain level of education are the 'marginal learning outcomes' of that level.

Students achieve learning outcomes through teaching-learning activities. The purpose of learning is also called behavioral purpose which is predetermined.

What Are the Learning Outcomes?

The learning outcomes that are expected to enable students to acquire the knowledge, skills and perspectives on a particular subject at the end of a specific teaching-learning activity or course over a period of time. 

According to the ‘Teaching and Learning’ department of University of Oxford “Learning outcomes describe what students should be able to do by the end of a teaching session or course. They are related to, but different from, teaching aims, which instead describe broadly what the session or course is about and its overall purpose.”

Learning outcomes are the clear and precise expectation of what knowledge, skills, attitudes a student will acquire at the end of a lesson. Learning outcomes are based on knowledge, cognitive ability, positive mindset change and the development of physical skills. In fact, the purpose of a particular lesson of a subject is achieved through learning outcomes.

The learning outcomes that students are expected to achieve at the end of a certain level of education are the ‘marginal learning outcomes’ of that level.

Why Do Learning Outcomes Are Important?

University of Oxford describes that learning outcomes describe what students should be able to do by the end of a teaching session or course. They are related to, but different from, teaching aims, which instead describe broadly what the session or course is about and its overall purpose.

Writing learning outcomes can help teachers to plan their teaching, for example, by prioritizing key learning points for the session or course and enabling you to plan their teaching across a session or course. They may also want to share learning outcomes with their students to help them to understand what they are meant to be learning.

Learning outcomes play the role of guide for teachers and they can understand what they should really do in the classrooms. Without writing  learning outcomes, a lesson plan cannot be successful.

Core Principles of Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes should:

  • Avoid jargon.
  • Use action verbs to describe what it is that students should be able to do during and/or at the end of a session or course. One way to ensure this is by completing the sentence: ‘By the end of the session students will be able to …’ Here … will be replaced by an action verb.
  • Not be too numerous. This helps to avoid writing a list of ‘content to be covered’ and will also help you prioritise what students need to do.
  • Be specific.

What Are the Characteristics of Learning Outcomes?

There are five characteristics of learning outcomes. The characteristics of  learning outcomes are identified as SMART by most of the educationists or education experts. Here every letter of the word SMART carries a characteristic.

Five characteristics of learning outcomes are:

  • S = Specific
  • M = Measurable 
  • A = Attainable
  • R = Relevant
  • T = Time-bound

Examples of Some Learning Outcomes

  • Students will able to translate the passage. 
  • Students will able to explain the text.
  • Students will able to identity the errors in the text.
  • Students will able to make sentences with the words. 
  • Students will able to answer the questions. 
  • Students will able make decision. 
  • Students will able to recite the poem correctly.

The examples show that the structure of a learning outcome. The structure of a learning outcome is: Students will able to + an action verb + adverb (if it is needed).

The List of Action Verbs What Are Used in Learning Outcomes

To enable students to demonstrate their…Examples of associated  learning outcome verbs
Knowledge and understanding outcomes written to enable students to demonstrate knowledge / understanding / awareness / intellectual curiositystate record identify clarify describe recognise make distinctionslist recount discuss recognise respond to disclose definename  indicate explain account outline refer to illustrate
Application outcomes written to enable students to demonstrate that they can apply their knowledgeapply compute calculate demonstrate discovermanipulate modify perform predict prepareproduce relate show solve  use
Analysis outcomes written to enable students to demonstrate the skill of analysisanalyse compare criticiseexamine appraise debatecontrast question distinguish
Synthesis / creativity outcomes written to enable students to demonstrate the skill of synthesis / creativityarrange plan formulate redefine initiateassemble prepare construct propose startorganise design develop produce create
Evaluation outcomes written to enable students to demonstrate the skill of evaluationevaluate estimate measure Recommendassess criticise compare advocatejudge appraise discriminate defend

When writing learning outcomes, avoid using words that are vague and which are more difficult to assess. This includes words and phrases such as::

  • know
  • understand
  • believe
  • learn the basics of
  • be aware of
  • appreciate
  • have a good grasp of
  • be interested in
  • be familiar with
  • realise the significance
  • become acquainted with
  • obtain a working knowledge of

Learning Outcomes Selection in a Lesson Plan

The contents of the lessons in each class are selected based on the specific learning outcomes in the prescribed curriculum; and class-based textbooks specify chapter-based learning outcomes or objectives also.

In conducting class activities, learning outcomes should be selected to achieve as many learning outcomes as possible by following a student-centered approach in the allotted time. How many learning outcomes are to be achieved in each period is dependent on the time and the content of the lesson. So the number of learning outcomes of each period can be more or less. Most of the time it is seen that teachers conduct teaching activities in the classroom with three or four learning outcomes.

If you want to know more about Learning outcomes, please visit University of Oxford’s Centre for Teaching and Learning.

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