Articulate learning outcomes

When we clearly articulate learning outcomes with plainness (2 Nephi 25), we serve our students in a way they can clearly learn and not misunderstand. Start your outcome statement with a clear and understandable action verb associated with a direct end goal. Test each outcome statement with several students. Ask them what they think they should be able to know, do, and become after reading the statement.

The purpose of our goals and outcomes for our students is to help them gain the Spirit in their learning. It can be difficult to help students gain the Spirit and its attendant blessings to their biological and spiritual mind without clarity in outcome statements. Parley P. Pratt taught, "The gift of the Holy Ghost ... quickens all the intellectual faculties...and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use...It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being (Key to the Science of Theology, 9th ed. [1965], p. 101)." The Spirit can help us and our students understand the simple and clear outcome of the module, course, or program if we do not get in the way with our "human hands" of complexity. Indeed, we could positively spend just as much time in trying to clarify a framework for students as we spend teaching endless potential directions the material could and usually does take us. As we keep our outcome statements clear and associated activities and assessments neatly aligned, this can increase retention of learning. What would you find in your teaching online and face-to-face if students were tested several semesters after the course on a variety of topics? How would students that were taught with a clear framework, connecting seemingly unrelated concepts, retain the information compared to those that learned new material without a clear structure of outcomes and a framework for those outcomes?

As we act in thoughtful collaboration with other faculty in creating outcomes that help students act in obedience to eternal laws, their knowledge becomes intelligence and wisdom, they come closer to the Spirit, and the Holy Ghost will enliven their biological brain and spiritual mind and heart. James E. Faust taught how to prioritize our associations in learning and teaching, "I would rather have every person enjoy the Spirit of the Holy Ghost than any other association, for they will be led by that Spirit to light and truth and pure intelligence ("The Gift of the Holy Ghost--A Sure Compass,"Ensign, Apr. 1996, p. 6)."

In the spirit of simplicity (a difficult, ongoing, and laborious task), Jon Ivers, previously a dean for the College of Language and Letters, recommended keeping their program outcomes and assessment plans simple enough to easily act upon. For example, they discussed program outcomes and agreed on statements of outcomes that were simple enough to lead to a realistic and practical assessment data collection and analysis plan. When they analyzed the data, they were able to identify missing pieces of critical knowledge and skills that led to the creation of a new course. This is an example of direct leadership in outcomes and assessment that can lead to an increase in the quality of the learning experience for students as they prepare to become citizens of their families and communities.

It is helpful to start thinking about Bloom's Taxonomy early. This can help you develop action verbs in outcomes that align with your intended goals for your students in what they will be able to know, do, and become.

Bloom's digital taxonomy

Program and course-level outcomes are statements of intended learning for programs and courses.  As Ken Bain taught the faculty in April 2011, these statements are promises or opportunities that the course or program offers to students.  "What kind of questions [will the course or program] help students answer?  What kind of intellectual, physical, emotional, or social abilities [will a course or program] help them develop?"      

Outcomes and Effectiveness


The things we want our students to know, the skills we intend them to develop, and the kind of men and women we want them to be when they graduate are all outcomes.  Coming to authentic consensus regarding what we most want our students to know, to be able to do, and to become allows us to design our courses and our programs with focus and purpose.  Without that clear sense of what we are trying to achieve, we can't be effective.

Writing Outcome Statements



Learning outcome statements describe knowledge, skill, or dispositions that we intend students to gain or develop as a result of their participation in our courses and programs.  A well-written outcome statement describes desired student behavior rather than teacher actions.  Consequently, "Train students in use of laboratory equipment" is not an appropriate outcome statement but "Students will identify safety concerns in a simulated laboratory environment" is appropriate.

A common mistake is to concentrate too many of the outcomes at one level of learning.  For example, the outcomes for a course might be focused exclusively on knowledge or application.  Please consider a range of levels in your outcomes--knowledge, understanding, application, analysis, evaluation, and synthesis.

To write an effective outcome statement, identify a verb that describes the student behavior you are trying to produce. Once you have a verb, some version of this simple pattern will produce an outcome statement:

Students [observable verb] + [something].

For example,

  • Students label specimens.
  • Students restate Geertz' theory of culture
  • Students classify texts by genre.
  • Students calculate total interest for home loans at varied interest rates.
  • Students recommend supplemental readings for a course.
  • Students design a promotional campaign.


BYU-Idaho Tools

Learning Outcomes

Refining Learning Outcomes Statements

Selecting the Scope of Learning Outcomes

The Process for Designing Outcomes