Three Ingredients for Better Learning Outcomes

By Matt Bangerter & Jacqueline Trebilco - Team Leads, MEI Learning Transformation

Trying to determine what makes a good learning outcome likely doesn’t start with the question of what a learning outcome is. What is probably a better question to ask is; what is the purpose of a learning outcome? Surely if we know the purpose of a learning outcome we can judge whether it is good?

Ok, so what is the purpose of a learning outcome? Most educational institutions would agree the purpose is to set a goal for what teachers want students to be able to do at the end of a sequence of study or learning.

What does this tell us? Well if we want students to do something then we’ll need a verb. A sequence of study implies that there is some new knowledge, skills or attitudes being presented to students and we’ll need to know what those are specifically. And lastly, for a goal to be clear, we’ll probably want some clarity on what the setting or context of the goal so we know the parameters for success.

Therefore our three ingredients for better learning outcomes are a verb, some content and context. Using this form, some learning outcomes might look like:

  1. Describe several of the key differences between classical and renaissance art.
  2. Determine an appropriate methodology to test your hypothesis.
  3. Create a relational database for customer tracking in a small-to-medium size retail organisation.

Starting with the verb, there are several taxonomies which can guide you to select appropriate verbs. Probably the most well known one is Bloom’s taxonomy, which has a revised version and focuses on complexity as it relates to cognition. But there is also SOLO and Marzano which help you do the same thing, but from a different perspective.You may find a particular taxonomy is more appropriate with the type of theory and practice within your discipline.

Using the right verb really helps narrow down exactly what the students will be expected to do and makes it purposeful. Try to avoid overly general verbs or verbs that are hard to measure, like; understand, comprehend, appreciate, use and utilise.

The next component is the content. This component of the learning outcome is all about the discipline or topic being learned. This will be the thing that will be assessed.

The last part is sometimes the most forgotten part and possibly the hardest to articulate. The context is the part of the outcome that defines the scope. It focuses both the verb and the content into something that can be achieved and measurable. In the third example above, we would be asking students to make a single database for a particular type of organisation. If we wanted them to create multiple databases for different types of needs, we could adjust the wording accordingly. How we phrase the context really influences expectations around what we are asking students to achieve.

Returning to where we started, do our three ingredients help us set a goal for what teachers want students to be able to do at the end of a sequence of study or learning? Well, our verb helps us set our goal, the content tells us what will be studied and the context gives us our focus and scope. Try using these three ingredients to help make your good learning outcomes even better.