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Powerful Outcomes that Work

What are learning goals, learning objectives, and learning outcomes and why are they important?

Goals, objectives, and outcomes are different terminology for a statement of intended learning in a particular curriculum, course, or lesson. Educational literature differs in precise definitions of these terms, but WVU Teaching & Learning Commons recognizes the following general distinctions:

Goals are broad statements of what will be accomplished. They are referenced at a program or course level to provide a general framework for learning.

Learning Objectives/Learning Outcomes are specific behaviors/changes that students exhibit as a result of the learning whether within the context of a course of degree program. The TLC uses these terms (objectives/outcomes) interchangeably.

Goals and Learning Outcomes are important because they set the stage, or create a map, for both you and your students about why the course is important overall and the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities that students will gain. When writing outcomes, whether for courses or programs, keep the following guidance in mind. Effective learning outcomes should be:

  • Clear
  • Measurable
  • Student-centered
  • Achievable, both in the scope of individual outcomes and in the number of objectives or outcomes set
  • Aligned with learning opportunities and assessments
  • Appropriate to the degree level (undergraduate, graduate, certificate, etc.)
    • Additionally for courses, appropriate to the level of learning within the degree program
  • Consistent across all modes of delivery and locations
    • As per Harmonization

What are levels of learning?

Dr. Benjamin Bloom in the 1950s constructed (with others) a ”taxonomy” to help stimulate the use of higher levels of thinking in education. Bloom’s taxonomy is a hierarchical categorization of cognitive functioning to assist in organizing learning outcomes.

From simplest to most complex the original categories are: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.


Bloom’s Taxonomy at the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Educational Origami website - Bloom's Introduction.

How do I build an effective learning outcome?

The TLC encourages the writing of student-centered learning outcomes. Student-centered learning outcomes indicate what your students will learn or be able to do, as opposed to what you as the instructor will teach. Here is an example of a student-centered and teacher-centered learning outcome.

Student-Centered Teacher-Centered /td>
Students will be able to construct an argument in support of or against World War II and refer to facts that support their position. Students will hear a lecture and watch a video about World War II.

Knowing precisely what is expected and how it will be measured clarifies for both you and your students where time and energy will be most advantageously spent, increasing the likelihood of your students’ success. Construct your learning outcomes so that it is clear to your students what is expected of them. What will they be able to do at the end of the course that they couldn’t do when they started? How will you know they have achieved the outcome?

USE VERBS to describe the behavior/change to be exhibited as a result of the learning. The choice of a verb is critical. Such frequently used terms as know, understand, grasp, and appreciate do not meet this requirement because it is not possible to prove them. If the verb used in stating a learning outcome identifies an observable student behavior, then the basis for a clear statement is established. They need to be written in a way that provides evidence of learning.

Here are a few examples of vague outcomes that have been transformed into more clearly defined and measureable learning outcomes.

Vague Expectations Clear Expectations
Gain an appreciation of Minoan art. Identify the qualities and characteristics present in Minoan art.
Understand the elements of good writing. Identify 5 characteristics of good writing.
Demonstrate knowledge of geologic time. List from oldest to most recent the ages, epochs, and eras that make up the geologic time table.
Develop diagnostic skills. After examining the patient and reviewing the standard blood tests, select a course of treatment.

Sample Action Verbs for Outcomes/Objectives

Knowledge Comprehension Application Analysis Synthesis Evaluation
Define Classify Apply Analyze Arrange Appraise
Identify Describe Compute Appraise Assemble Assess
Indicate Discuss Construct Calculate Collect Choose
Know Explain Demonstrate Categorize Compose Compare
Label Express Dramatize Compare Construct Contrast
List Identify Employ Contrast Create Decide
Memorize Locate Use Criticize Design Estimate
Name Paraphrase Illustrate Debate Formulate Evaluate
Recall Recognize Interpret Determine Manage Grade
Record Report Investigate Diagram Organize Judge
Relate Restate Operate Differentiate Perform Measure
Repeat Review Organize Distinguish Plan Rate
Select Suggest Practice Examine Prepare Revise
Underline Summarize Predict Experiment Produce Score
  Tell Schedule Inspect Propose Select
  Translate Shop Inventory Set up Value
    Sketch Question    

Source: Gagne's Nine Events of Instruction Retrieved on April 25, 2008 from

Where can I go for assistance with building my learning outcomes?

The WVU Teaching and Learning Commons provides consultation services to assist instructors. In addition, other resources we have found valuable are listed below.


  • Arizona State University's (ASU) Objectives Builder (formerly known as the Radio James Learning Objectives Builder)
    • Assists with choosing appropriate verbs to convey the expected level of student learning necessary to achieve desired outcomes. It also used Bloom's Taxonomy to organize objectives according to comprehension level, which could then be copied and pasted into a document such as a lesson plan.
  • The Differentiator
    • The Differentiator (from the people at Byrdseed) starts with a sample objective at the top of the page. Once clicked, it changes to an editable sentence divided into parts. Categories and action verbs are offered at the bottom of the window and range from skills to group size.
  • A Model of Learning Objectives
    • From Iowa State University's Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, A Model of Learning Objectives is an interactive Flash-based model that highlights colored blocks as they are rolled over with a mouse. When activated, each block displays an example of a learning objective that generally matches each of the numerous combinations of the cognitive process and knowledge dimensions.

How can I make sure learning is occurring?

In a well-constructed course, the goals, learning outcomes, assessments, and activities align. This is important because it ensures that all parts of the course are relevant and support one another.

After creating your learning outcomes, the next step is to design or select assessment methods that accurately measure how well students are achieving these results. You can use formative and/or summative assessments determine how your students are doing.

Formative assessments are used to observe how your students are doing and provide ongoing feedback that can be used by you to improve your teaching and by your students to improve their learning. Characteristics of formative assessments are:

  • they are often used during class so that you get real-time feedback, enabling you to recognize if and where your students are struggling and address problems immediately.
  • Low stakes, meaning they have little or no point value.

Examples may include: muddiest point, one minute paper, use of clickers, first draft of a research paper.

Summative assessments are used to evaluate your students; learning. Characteristics of summative assessments are:

  • High stakes, meaning they are usually have a high point value
  • Often are punitive

Examples may include: exams, presentations, final project, paper.

The table below outlines several examples of assessments for your consideration.

Is the learning outcome… Then consider…
Thinking critically and making judgments?
(Developing arguments, reflecting, evaluating, assessing, judging)
  • Essay
  • Report
  • Journal
  • Letter of Advice to... (about policy, public health matters…)
  • Present a case for an interest group
  • Prepare a committee briefing paper for a specific meeting
  • Book review (or article) for a particular journal
  • Write a newspaper article for a foreign newspaper
  • Comment on an article's theoretical perspective
Solving problems and developing plans?
(Identifying problems, posing problems, defining problems, analyzing data, reviewing, designing experiments, planning, applying information)
  • Problem scenario
  • Group Work
  • Work-based problem
  • Prepare a committee of enquiry report
  • Draft a research bid to a realistic brief
  • Analyze a case
  • Conference paper (or notes for a conference paper plus annotated bibliography)
Performing procedures and demonstrating techniques?
(Computation, taking readings, using equipment, following laboratory procedures, following protocols, carrying out instructions)
  • Demonstration
  • Role Play
  • Make a video (write script and produce/make a video)
  • Produce a poster
  • Lab report
  • Prepare an illustrated manual on using the equipment, for a particular audience
  • Observation of real or simulated professional practice
Managing and developing oneself?
(Working co-operatively, working independently, learning independently, being self-directed, managing time, managing tasks, organizing)
  • Journal
  • Portfolio
  • Learning Contract
  • Group work
Accessing and managing information?
(Researching, investigating, interpreting, organizing information, reviewing and paraphrasing information, collecting data, searching and managing information sources, observing and interpreting)
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Project
  • Dissertation
  • Applied task
  • Applied problem
Demonstrating knowledge and understanding?
(Recalling, describing, reporting, recounting, recognizing, identifying, relating & interrelating)
  • Written examination
  • Oral examination
  • Essay
  • Report
  • Comment on the accuracy of a set of records
  • Devise an encyclopedia entry
  • Produce an A - Z of...
  • Write an answer to a client's question
  • Short answer questions: True/False/ Multiple Choice Questions (paper-based or computer-aided-assessment)
Designing, creating, performing?
(Imagining, visualizing, designing, producing, creating, innovating, performing)
  • Portfolio
  • Performance
  • Presentation
  • Hypothetical
  • Projects
(One and two-way communication; communication within a group, verbal, written and non-verbal communication. Arguing, describing, advocating, interviewing, negotiating, presenting; using specific written forms)
  • Written presentation (essay, report, reflective paper etc.)
  • Oral presentation
  • Group work
  • Discussion/debate/role play
  • Participate in a 'Court of Enquiry'
  • Presentation to camera
  • Observation of real or simulated professional practice

Source: Oxford Brookes University, (2007). Methods of assessment. Retrieved May 14, 2008, from Oxford Brookes University Web site: