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Writing Course Learning Outcomes

The following guide provides important information about writing or revising course learning outcomes at BYU-Idaho, as well as a summary of information and resources to help in writing effective course learning outcomes.  Email if you have questions or would like help writing or revising learning outcomes.

Need to Know

  • The official course learning outcomes (CLOs) are listed in the university catalog.
  • Department Chairs are responsible for approving changes to the CLOs for their departments. Department faculty should be involved in writing or revising the CLOs.
  • New or revised CLOs should be submitted to Kuali by early winter semester to be updated in the catalog for the following school year.
  • Each section of a course should include the official CLOs from the catalog in the syllabus and the curriculum for their section. An instructor may add other CLOs for individual sections of a course in addition to the official CLOs from the catalog.
  • A course may serve a variety of purposes for different programs and curricula. When writing or revising CLOs, consider any associated programs and consult with faculty from other departments as needed.
  • CLOs communicate to students, employers, and other educational institutions about the expected learning from a course. When writing or revising CLOs, consider the various audiences.
  • CLOs do not necessarily describe everything that students are expected to learn in a course. It may be helpful for some courses to document in the syllabus or elsewhere a longer list of more specific objectives or sub-outcomes that help describe additional detail about what students are expected to learn in the course.

Effective Learning Outcomes

Course learning outcomes answer the question “what will the student be able to do after taking this course?” Learning outcomes include the key knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of mind that students are expected to take with them from the course.[1] Learning outcomes do not describe the learning path – they describe the destination. Well-written outcomes make instruction and assessment easier. Effective learning outcomes are:


  • Summarize the most important points of learning students are expected to retain.
  • Clear and meaningful for students, employers, and other institutions.
  • Rigorous yet realistic expectations for all students who complete the course.
  • Align with higher-level outcomes (do not necessarily repeat higher-level outcomes).
  • Specific enough to distinguish from other courses.


  • Wherever possible, describe learning that students can demonstrate and faculty can evaluate.
  • Starts with a concrete action verb that describes what students will be able to do.


  • One key idea per outcome (avoid multiple outcomes or long lists of details in one outcome).
  • Limited number of outcomes per course (generally 4-7 brief learning outcomes).
  • Appropriate level of detail (course outcomes are more detailed than program outcomes).

Recommended Process

The following steps provide a recommended process for writing or revising learning outcomes:

  • First, as a department or group of assigned faculty brainstorm a list of learning outcomes that are meaningful. It is important to begin with a set of learning outcomes that the department can agree on as important points of learning for the program or course.
  • Second, discuss how the wording of the selected learning outcomes may be refined to clarify how they will be assessed.
  • Third, discuss how the wording of the selected learning outcomes may be refined to be more concise. Consider narrowing down the number of outcomes.  The goal is to have a brief set of learning outcomes that provide a meaningful focus for planning learning experiences and assessments in the course.
  • Fourth, consider sharing the selected learning outcomes with others outside the department for feedback. You may want to get feedback from students, employers, faculty from other departments, or curriculum designers.

Learning Outcomes Formatting Guidelines

Based on limitations for multiple systems used to report and manage learning outcomes at BYU-Idaho, learning outcomes should be written using the following formatting guidelines:

  • Begin with an action verb (exclude introductory text and the phrase “Students will…”, as this is assumed)
  • Limit the length of each learning outcome to 400 characters (this is a system limit; most outcomes should be much shorter)
  • Exclude special characters (e.g., accents, umlauts, ampersands, etc.)
  • Exclude special formatting (e.g., bullets, dashes, numbered lists, etc.)

Additional Resources

  • BYU-Idaho Learning and Teaching Resources: The BYU-Idaho Learning and Teaching website has additional information about learning outcomes.  See the “Learning Outcomes” link listed under “Instructional Tools” on the Learning and Teaching Resources page.
  • Jill Kern Workshop on Writing Learning Outcomes: In 2018, Dr. Jill Kern, current and past Director of Outcome and Assessment at several universities, presented a workshop at BYU-Idaho. Click on the above link to view the presentation or presentation handouts.
  • Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide by Linda Suskie: An easy-to-read, informative book on outcomes and assessment that has been used on campus to develop a shared language and understanding of outcomes and assessment. Chapter 4 deals specifically with writing learning outcomes. It is available for free online access through the BYU-I library.

[1] Suski, L., Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, p. 41-42