Learning outcomes

Writing learning outcomes is a key component of planning your teaching, they provide a criterion reference for measuring learning or behaviour demonstrated by a student after a specific period of study.

Learning outcomes change the emphasis from what the lecturer will teach (content) to what the student will know, understand, or do at the end of the learning period. This page outlines several considerations for when you are writing or rewriting learning outcomes for your course. Learning outcomes can also be written for a module, topic, class session, or piece of assessment.

The purpose of learning outcomes is to provide a criterion reference for measuring learning or behaviour demonstrated by a student after a specific period of study. Ultimately, the learning outcomes of a course should relate directly to the assessment task and assessment method to accurately check that the students have achieved the learning outcomes. For this purpose, the number of learning outcomes are often limited to ensure that all learning outcomes can be assessed appropriately.

An aim or goal of a good learning outcome is to present a statement of intent. You might consider this to be what you are going to do during a teaching session. Ideally, a good learning outcome is specific, measurable and defined in a way that is easily understood. For learning outcomes to be effective and achieve the purpose stated above they must be written to include the following three elements:

  1. An action verb describing the behaviour (what the student will do) which demonstrates the student’s learning (based on the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy.)
  2. Information about the context for the demonstration.
  3. The level at which the outcome will be demonstrated (based on the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy.) 

To write good learning outcomes the teacher needs to achieve the following:

  • Identify the aims of the programme and essential core learning that needs to take place to meet these aims.
  • Determine the complexity and depth of learning expected from the course. This is based on the level of the course and often determines the level of independence with which the student is expected to work.
  • Once the core learning has been identified, consider how you will know when the student has achieved this core learning. What assessment tasks will you use to measure achievement of the learning outcomes?
  • Ideally, each learning outcome should contain only one action verb. This needs to be specific and measurable. Ambiguous learning outcomes such as ‘students will know…, understand… think, appreciate…’ can be very hard to measure objectively. Sentence structure should be kept as simple as possible to avoid confusion or differences of interpretation amongst students, teachers and markers.
  • A course should aim for 3-4 learning outcomes with a maximum of 5-6 learning outcomes. These learning outcomes do not explicitly restate the Knowledge, Skills, Values framework as set in the relevant graduate profile/s but should be constructively aligned with the graduate profile where applicable.

Here is an example of a course’s learning outcomes:

By the end of this course students will be able to:

LO1: Describe the key terms and components related to Systems Analysis.

LO2: Identify at least three different perspectives on the environment.

LO3: Explain the relevance of world views and science in understanding different perspectives on the environment.

LO4: Critique the use of three dimensions (ie, biophysical, sociocultural and economic) to describe the environment.

LO5: Apply a Systems model to a real-world example. 

Learning outcomes are also scalable – as well as being defined for a course, they can also be defined for a module, topic, class session, or piece of assessment. For example, a learning outcome for a single topic might be “Describe the types of insect life cycle” and “Explain how the stages of the life cycle can be manipulated to minimise harmful effects and maximise beneficial effects”.

Phrasing objectives by using action verbs

Actions verbs define the thinking skills required for a learning outcome. In most cases this is determined using Bloom’s Taxonomy or the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy which is a way of categorising and organising thinking skills. Bloom’s Taxonomy is often displayed as a pyramid graphic to help demonstrate this hierarchy which has been updated to a “cake-style” hierarchy thereby emphasising how each level builds upon the foundation of previous levels, as shown below.

Source: Jessica Shabatura (

How can Bloom’s Taxonomy aid in course design?
Bloom’s taxonomy represents a powerful tool for the development of learning outcomes as it explains the process of learning:
  • Before you can understand a concept, you must remember it
  • To apply a concept, you must first understand it
  • To evaluate a process, you must have analysed it
  • To create an accurate conclusion, you must have completed a thorough evaluation.

However, you do not always start with lower order skills and step all the way through the entire Bloom’s Taxonomy for each concept you present in your course. That approach would become tedious – for both you and your students! Instead, you need to start by considering the level of learners in your course.

For instance, are most of your students first-years? Is this an “Introduction to…” course? If so, many your learning outcomes may target the lower order Bloom’s skills, because your students are building foundational knowledge.

However, even in this situation you should strive to move a few of your learning outcomes into the applying and analysing level. But getting too far up in the taxonomy could create frustration and unachievable goals.

Are most of your students 2nd or 3rd year undergraduates? Postgraduate students? Do your students have a solid foundation in much of the terminology and processes you will be working on in the course?

If so, then you should not have many remembering and understanding level learning outcomes.

You may need a few, for any new concepts specific to your course. However, these advanced students should be able to master higher-order learning outcomes. Having too many lower-level learning outcomes might cause boredom or apathy.

Note that it is the skill, action, or activity you will teach using that verb that determines the Bloom’s Taxonomy level. 

How does Bloom’s Taxonomy work with learning outcomes?

Fortunately, verb tables can help you identify which action verbs align with each level in Bloom’s Taxonomy. You can also use this longer list of Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs, this helpful verb chart, or this list of action verbs using the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Some of these verbs can also be associated with multiple Bloom’s Taxonomy levels. These “multilevel-verbs” are actions that could apply to different activities. For example, your learning outcome could be: “Explain the difference between H2O and OH-.” This would be an understanding level learning outcome. However, if you want students to be able to “Explain the shift in the chemical structure of water throughout its various phases” then this would be an analysing verb.

When you are ready to write, it can be helpful to list the level of Bloom’s Taxonomy next to the verb you choose in parentheses. For example:

LO1. (apply) Show how transportation is a critical link in the supply chain.

LO2. (understand) Discuss the changing global landscape for businesses and other organisations that are driving change in the global environment.

LO3. (apply) Describe how the special nature of transportation demand and the influence of transportation on companies and their supply chains operating in a global economy.