Writing Learning Outcomes

A Brief Guide to Writing Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are statements that outline what a learner is expected to be able to know, understand or be able to do on successful completion of a course or training programme. They help prospective learners identify the content areas a course or training will (and won’t) cover by informing them of what they can expect to achieve by completing the course.

Well-written learning outcomes will be a great help in mapping out what learning content to include in your course as well as providing a framework for the instructional methods. The learning outcomes also form the basis of your course assessment as you need to test that your learners have achieved the learning outcomes at the required level.

It pays to dedicate time in the planning stages to craft well-defined learning outcomes. At The Learning Rooms, we follow a SMART methodology. SMART requires that learning outcomes are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based.

  • Specific: Learning outcomes need to be clearly defined and precise. They should also be easy for the learner to understand.
  • Measurable: You should be able to observe and measure the learner demonstrating that they have achieved the learning outcome.
  • Achievable: Learning outcomes need to be pitched at the right levelfor the target group. You need to take into account what they already know about the subject.
  • Realistic: Learning outcomes need to be realistic given the time and resources available.
  • Time-based: Learning outcomes need to state a timeframe by which the learner will be able to demonstrate their achievement. This is typically relative to the length of the course.

Well-written learning outcomes are made up of three elements: Action verb + content/topic + context = learning outcome

Here are some examples.

On successful completion of the course, participants will be able to:

  • Demonstrate (action verb) effective communication skills (content/topic) with call centre customers (context).
  • Apply (action verb) the principles of de-escalation (content/topic) to a situation where an individual is displaying difficult behaviour (context).
  • List (action verb) the basic fire safety equipment needed (content/topic) in the home (context).

Bloom’s Taxonomy is an excellent place to start when you’re looking at the different verbs you can use to write learning outcomes. The taxonomy categorises verbs by the level of learning expected. Bloom identified six levels: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Here’s a few examples:

  • Knowledge: Identify, describe or define
  • Comprehension: Summarise, paraphrase or explain
  • Application: Demonstrate, illustrate or show
  • Analysis: Categorise, compare or classify
  • Synthesis: Construct, develop or create
  • Evaluation: Criticise, critique or appraise

Now what?

Once you’ve written your learning outcomes, these will become the framework for how you design, deliver and assess your course. You will need to think about what content your learners will need to be able to achieve each learning outcome. Next, what instructional activities you can use to deliver that content. Finally, you need to consider what form of assessment you can implement to assess your learners against the learning outcomes. The assessment needs to test at the appropriate level of Bloom’s Taxonomy and be robust enough so that you can state that the learners have achieved what the course set out to deliver.

Consider the following. Through a learning needs analysis you have identified a requirement for sales training in your network of retail stores. Sales assistants are having difficulty in identifying the correct products to recommend to potential customers.

  • Learning Outcome: At the end of this course participants will be able to apply the sales funnel in order to recommend appropriate products to customers.
  • Content: The sales funnel, questions to ask potential customers and information about your product range.
  • Activities: Sort the stages of the sales funnel, select questions appropriate to each stage of the funnel, answer questions relating to products.
  • Assessment: Working through a series of realistic scenarios where the learner recommends products to potential customers. They make their decision based on the responses they receive on a number of questions.

In a well-designed course, the learning outcomes will inform the learner of what they will be able to do on completion of the course; learners will learn the content required to enable them to achieve the learning outcomes; and the assessment will prove that the learner has been able to achieve the learning outcomes.