Developing Learning Outcomes

Developing Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are user-friendly statements that tell students what they will be able to do at the end of a period of time. They are measurable and quite often observable. Learning outcomes are usually discussed within the context of program-wide assessment, but they can be valuable components of any class because of the way they sharpen the focus on student learning.

Learning outcomes:

  • state in clear terms what it is that your students should be able to do at the end of a course that they could not do at the beginning.
  • focus on student products, artifacts, or performances, rather than on instructional techniques or course content.
  • are student-centered rather than instructor-centered.
  • explicitly communicate course expectations to your students.

Writing Effective Learning Outcomes

The key to writing effective learning outcomes is the selection of active, measurable verbs—the tasks you want students to do at the end of your class.  Words like knowunderstand, or appreciate are difficult to measure, and they rarely get at the higher order thinking tasks most of us really want to see in our students.  Consider, instead, more specific words like these, which progress toward more complex intellectual tasks: By the end of the class, students should be able to ….

  • Recall
  • Explain
  • Interpret
  • Compare
  • Differentiate
  • Implement
  • Judge
  • Create

Next, consider how you will be able to measure whether students have met those outcomes. What types of activities or assignments will let students provide evidence they can meet these outcomes?  Is this something they can demonstrate through a specific essay assignment? Via a poster or other presentation?  As part of a course project?  Through well-crafted exam questions?

Sample Learning Outcomes

Below are several sample learning outcomes, with each pair showing a version that is difficult to measure, followed by a revision that is easier to measure.  Notice the selection of verbs and how students would be more likely to provide clear evidence that they met the objectives.

Hard to Measure:

Students will be exposed to the major folklore genres of Indiana.


By the end of this course, students will be able to analyze an example of Indiana folklore that is unfamiliar to them, using appropriate research and writing techniques.

Hard to Measure:

I want students to realize and gain knowledge of institutional racist policies that impact minority families.


Students will be able to recognize and verbally explain U.S. policies that have an impact on minority families.

Hard to Measure:

I want students to see how urban problems are important in their own lives.


Students will be able to invent and defend a solution to an urban problem that is relevant to their own city, town, or campus.

Hard to Measure:

Students will know how to complete a finance-related project efficiently when presented with a set of financial reports from their boss.


Given a financial dilemma and a sundry assortment of financial documents, students will be able to solve the dilemma and recommend the soundest financial decision to their boss.

Using Learning Outcomes within Your Class

Because well-written learning outcomes clearly define where you want students to be at the end of a semester, they are useful for guiding students throughout the course.  Consider giving the outcomes prominent placement in your syllabus, and talk frequently about them with your students, clarifying how certain activities in class are specifically aimed at helping them reach particular outcomes.  Look for opportunities to refocus students on the outcomes throughout the semester, asking them at regular intervals to reflect on their progress toward these goals.  So while you may be introduced to learning outcomes as part of an assessment plan, these tools are most effective within your class when actively used as a way of guiding student learning.

Since learning outcomes can provide such a useful structure for your class, consider ways of designing your course around them.  As suggested above, use these learning outcomes as the starting point for designing the rest of our course, aligning outcomes to tests and assignments, then to class activities that prepare students with the skills needed to accomplish these tasks.  For more information about how to design your course around learning outcomes, see our resource on Backward Course Design or contact a CITL consultant.


Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Mayer, R. W., Pintrich, P. R., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M. C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning teaching and assessing. (Complete ed.). New York: Longman.

IUB General Education Requirements (see the learning outcomes listed for various course clusters)

For More Information

Contact CITL to speak with a consultant or arrange a departmental workshop.