Intended learning outcomes
Most Higher Education institutions across the world use an ‘outcomes-based’ approach to learning. This is an approach to teaching which sets out information at the start of the course about what the teachers expect students to have learnt, or to be able to do, by the end of the course.
Learning outcomes are the skills and knowledge which it is intended that students should be able to demonstrate by the time the assessment processes for the course have been completed. The intention of learning outcomes is to give students a clear idea of what they are expected to be able to do by the end of the course. Programme level learning outcomes are statements of what successful students will achieve by the end of the programme – they are aspirational and pitched at the highest level of the programme. They are not a simple aggregation of module learning outcomes but more than the sum of the parts; on the other hand, module learning outcomes should align and contribute to the programme level learning outcomes.
Well-designed learning outcomes:
- Relate to the programme aims;
- Refer to relevant external reference points;
- Are clear to staff, students and external examiners.
External reference points
In designing learning outcomes lecturers should consult the following frameworks (where relevant) in order to align outcomes to the appropriate level and range of knowledge/skills:
- the appropriate level of study according to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ)
- (ii) the SEEC Credit Level Descriptors for FE and HE
- (iii) any relevant QAA Subject Benchmark statements
- (iv) relevant professional or accrediting body requirements
- (v) the Queen Mary Statement of Graduate Attributes
You should normally pitch your learning outcomes at the threshold level (i.e. the level required to pass the course not the level which the highest achieving students might attain) to support inclusivity and achievement of all students on your course.
Learning outcomes give students and staff clear guidance on what skills and knowledge will be assessed during or after the course. It is important to note that all learning outcomes should be assessable, but not all learning outcomes might be directly assessed (for instance, in an essay based course, individual students may not cover all the outcomes in their essays but these may well still be passable, yet all the outcomes should be capable of being assessed).
Writing learning outcomes
Useful learning outcomes are those which describe what the typical student will be able to do by the time the course has been completed, and which can be assessed to measure to what extent students have achieved these outcomes. For instance ‘by the end of this module, students will understand Newton’s Laws of Motion’ is not only unhelpful, but also not easily assessable. An improvement could be: ‘by the end of this module, students will be able to describe how Newton’s Laws of Motion can be used to investigate the movement of bodies’. When writing learning outcomes remember:
- Write in the future tense – ‘by the end of this module, students will be able to…’
- Don’t try to use outcomes to replace your syllabus – identify the most important things you want the students to learn, and try to keep the number of outcomes to between 6 and 8 for a 15 credit module
- Make sure that your outcomes are achievable and assessable – think about how you might assess the outcomes as you write them
- Try to avoid jargon and abbreviations
- Include process as well as product – try not to make the outcome match the product, rather use the outcome to show what process you expect students to undertake. For instance, ‘be able to write a research dissertation’ is not a helpful outcome, as it requires students to understand what the process of writing the dissertation is. ‘Be able to plan and implement a research project’ is more helpful, as it shows the process we are asking the students to undertake more clearly.
- Write at the appropriate level for the course – see below for more detail.
A good set of module learning outcomes will include a balance of different types of learning outcome too. At QMUL the module proposal form divides these into:
- Academic content (knowledge and understanding) – these are often the most common type of outcome. They describe a set of knowledge that student will be expected to have acquired by the end of the course.
- Disciplinary skills (discipline specific skills, often practical) – As well as being able to recall information, learning outcomes should describe the kinds of application or transformation that students will be expected to make of that information. At higher levels outcomes should show that students should be able to engage with knowledge critically, to evaluate it, or to analyse or synthesise complex data.
- Graduate attributes (intellectual and transferable skills) – Learning outcomes should cover skills development as well as knowledge acquisition. If you intend to assess students’ capability in a particular skill, think about how you express that as an outcome for the course.
Queen Mary Academy Guide for writing aims and learning outcomes
You can download the full guidance on writing aims and learning outcomes here: