Center for Educational Innovation

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Part 2: Establishing Student Learning Outcomes

For most instructors, it’s easy to identify what students should learn about in their courses. Articulating how learners’ thinking processes have broadened and deepened and how their world view may have changed as a result of their study is more challenging. This section of Integrated Aligned Course Design poses a series of questions to help uncover and describe to students what learning means in your course.

STEP ONE: Thinking about the Big Picture

Before you begin selecting the content you will include in your course, think about the outcomes you hope students will achieve.

What do you want students to know or be able to do by the end of your course?

In other words, how will the knowledge students acquire in your course enable them to think complexly, interact appropriately, and shift perspectives deftly?

STEP TWO: Drafting Learning Outcomes for Your Course

Now, you can begin to draft your learning outcomes as statements of what students will know or do by the end of your course. The written outcomes should be student and performance oriented. Good outcomes are also measurable (that is, they specify clearly what students are expected to know or do in terms that students can understand and that you can assess).  You should also consider how your outcomes align with the University's Student Learning Outcomes and Student Development Outcomes.  

When drafting your outcomes, ask yourself the following:

  • Do the verbs I use in my outcomes clearly indicate the knowledge or skills I want students to achieve?
  • Are my outcomes measurable? How will I measure whether (and how well) students have met each of my outcomes?

STEP THREE: Clarifying and Communicating Your Learning Outcomes

Now, revise your learning outcomes.  Plan how you will make your outcomes clear to students, both in your syllabus and in person. In addition,consider how your students will communicate to you whether they have met your outcomes and how their learning has been shaped in the process. Consider any of the formative assessment techniques mentioned in the Reviewing Your Course Design section for ideas.

The following questions and your answers will help you refine your learning objectives:

  • What do these outcomes look like from a student’s perspective?
  • What does a student DO to demonstrate achievement of these outcomes?
  • How will these outcomes guide your course and syllabus design?
  • How will you communicate the importance of these outcomes to students when the course begins?


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