Effective Learning Outcomes:
- Represent intentional alignment between course and program outcomes and campus goals for learning.
- Describe the knowledge, skills, and abilities you expect students to display at the end of the course or program.
- Focus on what students will DO (NOT what the course covers or program includes).
Articulate and communicate expectations
The process of developing learning outcomes invites faculty to reflect on, and then translate, that embodied disciplinary knowledge into clear expectations for students in their majors. We wouldn't want to leave something as important as student learning and success to guesswork.
Educational equity depends on individual and collective capacity to reflect on, and clearly articulate, learning goals for students.
Ironically, faculty expertise does not always translate directly to clear goals for student learning, which in turn, can make it harder to articulate transparent learning outcomes.
Not surprisingly, students benefit when learning outcomes are clear, but transparency of student learning goals is especially beneficial for first-generation students, non-Caucasian students, and transfer students (Winkelmes, 2013; Balloo, Evans, Hughes, Zhu, and Winstone, 2018, emphasis added). Equitable assessment practices demand that, in addition to making expectations for student learning clear and known, we must ensure that the primary intended users of those outcomes, i.e., students themselves, are able to make sense of them (Montenegro & Jankowski, 2020).
NOTE: Goals for learning represent what you hope students will accomplish. Learning outcomes are what you will measure.
- Align program and course goals
- Instructors express goals for student learning through Course-level Learning Outcomes (CLOs), which derive from undergraduate Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs), which describe the focused and discipline-specific skills, knowledge, and abilities expected of students matriculating from an individual program or major. PLOs ideally reflect the UC Davis Campus Goals for Undergraduate Learners, which express our broadest goals for student learning.
- Articulate learning outcomes that are both aspirational and achievable
- Goals for learning should describe our highest expectations for UC Davis graduates; they must also be achievable within a given timeframe and context.
While a program might expect learners to "communicate [disciplinary] knowledge effectively through written, visual and/or oral forms appropriate to purpose and audience," the corresponding course learning outcome is more specific and more likely to be achievable in a ten-week term. For example: Students should be able to deliver a 7 minute conference-style presentation based on analyses of [course content].
- Make learning goals and outcomes transparent
- Effective learning outcomes statements clarify expectations through precise word choice. To increase transparency, use language which highlights the observable behaviors or skills students will display (e.g., evaluate, critique, produce, design). What does "understanding" look like? How do we know if a student "knows" something? What does "think critically" or "communicate effectively" look or sound like?
A useful resource for effectively describing your expectations for student learning is the revised Bloom's Taxonomy of Cognitive Process Dimensions.