Developing Learning Outcomes for Your Course

Clearly-articulated learning outcomes build the foundation for effective courses and guide the development of course lectures, assignments, and assessments. Including learning outcomes on your syllabus lets your students know what you want them to be able to demonstrate and do by the end of the course. It helps them understand the expectations for the course, as well as what they will gain from it, including the knowledge they will acquire, skills they will practice, and attitudes or values they will explore.

While it is ideal to identify specific learning outcomes for every engagement you have with students, distilling the semester to 10-ish outcomes on your syllabus is sufficient. If you write too few outcomes, you probably are phrasing them too abstractly in ways that won’t communicate to students the knowledge or skills they should  be able to demonstrate. If you write too many, you probably are getting too deep into the specific topics. We will provide you with a few exercises to help you determine the best way to phrase your outcomes.

The difference between learning outcomes and learning goals or objectives

The difference between learning outcomes and goals/objectives has to do with who performs the activities. Learning goals/objectives describe what an instructor aims to do,  whereas learning outcomes describe what a student is able to do after completing a learning experience.

Formula for writing learning outcomes

Most course learning outcomes are expressed in this format:  By the end of the course, students will be able to insert verb + insert knowledge, skill, or attitude the student is expected to develop.

For example, By the end of the course, students will be able to summarize the key forces affecting the rise of China as an economic power in the global market.”

Using concrete action verbs in each outcome communicates clearly to students the level of understanding you expect. Below are some possible active verbs associated with different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy for the cognitive domain.

Course clarity project graphic


Example course learning outcomes



Students will be able to critically analyze text to identify biases in the argument

Students will be able to identify unethical practices in presented case studies

Students will be able to develop sustainable practices in __________

Skill Students will be able to construct and manipulate data in spreadsheets in order to ___________

Students will be able to navigate a laboratory using basic safety measures

Students will be able to communicate complex ideas for non-experts in a poster presentation

Students will demonstrate skills in interviewing, analyzing data, and learning from those data about how politicians communicate for advocacy.

Knowledge Students will be able to propose valid experiments to answer a biological question about embryonic development by thinking critically about the primary data from scientific experiments

Students will be able to create their own mathematical ideas and proofs to experience the joy of figuring things out and being a producer, rather than a consumer, of mathematics.

Students will be able to identify, analyze and apply management styles to prepare them for their internship in sports management

Students will be able to appraise structures developed to help people in poverty by interacting with people in the local environment who find themselves in a situation where they need help


 What makes a learning outcome effective?

Good learning outcomes are: student-centered, gradeable, clear, concise, and outcome-based (as opposed to task-based). See the table below for examples of goals in each of these domain areas; the middle column shows poorly-crafted goals, while the right-hand column demonstrates a successful revision. You also can use this table as a rubric to self-assess the learning outcomes you create.

Ineffective Learning Outcome Effective Learning Outcome
Student-Centered Different theories of personality development will be explored through lectures, readings, and assignments. Students will be able to name each theory of personality development and describe the key characteristics that distinguish each theory.
Gradeable Students will understand symbolism. Students will be able to identify examples of symbolism in short stories and incorporate symbolism in their own writing.
Clear Students will be able to analyze American history. Students will be able to analyze how American foreign policy history relates to current trends in American foreign policy.
Concise Students will analyze American foreign policy, from 18th-century diplomatic relations with Europe to the Monroe Doctrine, considering the ways in which shifts from expansionism and Manifest Destiny to isolationism and protectionism impacted relations with neighboring nations and Native Americans. Students will be able to identify how changes in American foreign policy during the 18th and 19th centuries impacted relations with neighboring nations and Native Americans.
Outcome-Based Students will be able to demonstrate on a mannequin the four steps to administer CPR. Students will be able to demonstrate the four steps used to administer CPR.

Center for Teaching and Learning.  (2021, November 5).  Course objectives and learning outcomes.  DePaul University Teaching Commons.

Barnard, M., Whitt, E., & McDonald, S. (2021) Learning objectives and their effects on learning and assessment preparation: insights from an undergraduate psychology course. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 46(5), pp. 673-684.

Biggs, J., & C. Tang. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university. 4th ed. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill.

Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, E. J., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. New York, NY: Longmans, Green and Co.

Center for Teaching and Learning.  (2021).  Course objectives and learning outcomes.  DePaul University Teaching Commons.

Das, D. K. (2021). Constructive alignment for deep learning in undergraduate civil engineering education. African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education 25(1), pP. 77-90.

Goh, C., Leong, C., Kasmin, K., Hii, P., & Tan, O.  (2017). Students’ experiences, learning outcomes and satisfaction in e-Learning.  Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society 13(2).

Kumpas-Lenk, K., Eisenschmidt, E., & LiVeispak, A.  (2018).  Does the design of learning outcomes matter from students’ perspectives?  Studies in Educational Evaluation 59, pp. 179-186.

Loughlin, C., Lygo-Baker, S., & Lindberg-Sand, A. (2021).  Reclaiming constructive alignment. European Journal of Higher Education 11:2, pages 119-136.

Mahajan, M., & Singh, M. K., S. (2017).  Importance and benefits of learning outcomes.  IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science 22(3), pp. 65-67.

Murtonen, M., Gruber, H., & Lehtinen, E.  (2017).  The return of behaviourist epistemology: A review of learning outcomes studies.  Educational Research Review 22, pp. 114-128.

Simon, B., & Taylor, J. (2009). What is the value of course-specific learning goals. Journal of College Science Teaching 39(2), pp. 52-57.

Winkelmes, M., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases Underserved college students’ success. Peer Review 18(1/2), pp.31–36.