Learning Outcomes

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Introduction

Learning outcomes describe what a student should know, understand or be able to do as a consequence of successfully completing their whole course, a particular level of their course, or an individual module. Well-defined learning outcomes articulate observable and measurable behaviours from which key assessment criteria can be derived. Well-defined learning outcomes provide students with an appreciation of what learning is expected of them and helps to provide them with a focus for how they will develop as they progress through the course. The learning outcomes effectively provide a framework for tutors’ expectations of their students. As students progress through the levels and between awards they are expected to become less dependent and more able to deal with unstructured and uncertain situations and these will be reflected in the learning outcomes. Consequently, establishing the learning outcomes of a course and those of its constituent awards, levels and modules is a fundamental part of the curriculum design process. Sheffield Hallam University’s course descriptor template requires course planners to identify the course level learning outcomes for the main/target award and each of the intermediate awards.

Why are learning outcomes important?
Learning outcomes help you to:

  • be more precise when planning, supporting and assessing learning
  • make effective linkages between your learning and teaching activities and assessment tasks and the feedback you give to your students.
  • articulate the level of learning you expected from your students
  • write your assessment criteria
  • make explicit any underpinning values, attitudes and skills that are not reflected in descriptions of content

Writing learning outcomes
Sheffield Hallam advocates the use of the SEEC (2016) credit level descriptors for Higher Education, for more information about the SEEC credit level descriptors visit www.seec.org.uk. The reference points for the development of these descriptors includes the Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies (November 2014), available at www.qaa.ac.uk. The level descriptors, together with the QAA Subject Benchmark Statements  are the starting point for the development of the learning outcomes for a Programme Specification, a Module Description or a specific learning activity. They provide a useful articulation of the learning gain students should be able to demonstrate as they progress through the various levels and awards in Higher Education. The level descriptors can help you to develop learning outcomes that articulate the knowledge, understanding, and skills you expect your students to be able to demonstrate at a particular level and as they progress through their programme of study. Although the level descriptors are a very helpful starting point, the following notes provide further information to support you to develop learning outcomes. It is important to give the development of your learning outcomes careful thought as they are the basis for your learning and teaching activities and assessment.

What should they include? Learning outcomes start with phrases such as ‘by successfully engaging with this course/module, the learner will be able to’ followed by:

  • an active verb or phrase
  • an object of the verb
  • a clause or phrase that provides the context or condition
Active verb/phrase Object Context/Condition
explain and evaluate the relationship between the company directors and shareholders
describe and illustrate the principles of behaviourist psychology

 

Often it is the verb and the object that shows the behaviour/values/attitudes required from the learner and the context or condition that shows the degree of autonomy required and the complexity and/or significance of the situation. Learning outcomes should be expressed in clear and simple terms, to ensure that all involved (e.g. learners, tutors, employers, etc.) understand them – the use of academic jargon and complex language in learning outcomes is unhelpful. If you are writing a module, learning outcomes should relate to the overall learning outcomes in the Course Descriptor. When developing a learning activity, the learning outcomes should relate to those in the module description.

Remember you may not get learning outcomes right the first time and may need to re‐visit them in the light of your developing learning, teaching and assessment/feedback strategies. You may also find that when writing effective learning outcomes you may need to revisit and revise your aims.

Further guidance and examples can be found on our ‘A guide to Learning Outcomes’