Writing and assessing unit level learning outcomes

Writing learning outcomes?

The following section sets out a basic structure for well written learning outcomes as well as a basic thought process that you can work through to write learning outcomes that link to assessment activities.  It is heavily based on the work of Jude Carrol at Oxford Brookes University and has been included with her kind permission.

Well-written learning outcomes have three basic elements:

  • An action verb to describe the behaviour (what the student will do) which demonstrates the student's learning
  • Information about the context for the demonstration

Full learning outcomes also include:

  • How well the outcome will be demonstrated

Important note: The issue of how well the outcome should be demonstrated is perhaps the most difficult element to get to grips with. Many colleagues feel that this is effectively dealt with by the provision of detailed assessment criteria for the assignments which are set to test the learning outcome. In other words, this part of the learning outcome is unnecessary (as it should be in the detail assessment criteria) and over complicates them. In this respect it is common practice to articulate learning outcomes that contain simply the appropriate verb and the context in which the outcome is to be demonstrated.

Whether we use full or partial learning outcomes we need to produce detailed assessment criteria for our assessments and this should outline what is required of the students work to achieve a particular grade (I, II.i, II.ii, III, Fail). The most important thing is that through a combination of our learning outcomes and assessment criteria we provide our students with appropriate information about what they are expected to do and how it will be assessed.

An example learning outcome

The student will be able to design and draft a company report using information provided in case study materials such that the final report is suitable for discussion at Board level.

  • what the student will do: design and draft a company report
  • in which context: using information provided in case study materials
  • how well s/he will do it: suitable for discussion at Board level.


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