Where do you take students if you don’t know where you want them to go?
A course without learning outcomes is a lot like travelling without a destination. You may get to where you need to be in the end, but the journey could be long, tiresome and ineffectual. Or, you may not even get there.
Having learning outcomes ensures your course has a clear purpose and direction for students to take so they can achieve specific goals.
“Without goals and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination”
– Fitzhugh Dodson.
What are learning outcomes
Learning outcomes are statements that describe what students will be able to demonstrate by the end of your course.
For example, in a course on Sustainable Thinking, learning outcomes could be:
- Differentiate between sustainable and less sustainable products, services and practices (LO1)
- Develop strategies to improve their own sustainable living practices (LO2)
- Critique products and services based on how sustainable they are (LO3)
- Design a product or service that supports environmental sustainability (LO4)
Learning outcomes should drive course design and student assessment.
If learning outcomes are the goals of the course, your content and activities should be geared towards students developing those skills, knowledge and understanding.
- How do I make sure that my students have really mastered the desired skills or knowledge?
- What evidence do I need to collect to know my students have met the outcomes of the course?
- How will my students demonstrate their skills? Through a number of activities or one capstone activity?
Assessments should also address these outcomes.
How to develop learning outcomes
Writing learning outcomes can be tricky work but they will give your course direction and allow you to decide which information and activities to include.
An easy way to create a learning outcome is by breaking it down into three parts:
- An action verb (Design)
- A content or topic (a product or services)
- Context (that supports environmental sustainability).
Your action verb describes what you want your students to be able to do or demonstrate. We recommend Googling Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs (and focusing on the higher-order thinking levels like creating, evaluating and analysing).
Avoid using verbs that are murky, hard to measure or passive, such as:
- Be familiar with
- Be aware of
Learning outcomes can also be ordered so they increase in complexity and provide students a roadmap of their learning journey.
Remember, learning outcomes should be student-centred, specific and measurable. Students should be able read these statements, understand what is expected of them and assess whether they have met the goals of the course.
Using learning outcomes on OpenLearning
How to set up your course outcomes on OpenLearning
You can add learning outcomes on the Outcomes page located under Course Setup in the sidebar.
These outcomes will appear on your course landing page before students sign up and you can add as many as you need.
We also recommend you add them on your course homepage or in one of your introduction pages.
Using outcome tags
Each outcome also requires you to specify an outcome tag. These are shortened versions of the outcomes, which you can use to tag course content, activities and student posts with the relevant course outcome.
Add them to pages throughout the course to reflect alignment between learning activities and outcomes. (i.e. what you’re learning about on a page relates to a learning outcome).
Adding tags on every activity also allows students to see which outcome they are working on in a transparent way.
Tag evidence of learning
These outcome tags can also be used to tag activities where students demonstrate a learning outcome.
Tagged student work can then appear in assessment reports as evidence of their learning and be evaluated.
By using outcome tags throughout your course, you can ensure that all of your activities align with what you want your students to achieve.
What is your experience with setting your course learning outcomes and activities? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.