Create Student Learning Outcomes
Learning outcomes can be articulated at the activity level, the module level and the course level. Backward design begins with thinking about the course-level learning outcomes.
- What do you want your students to know and be able to do at the end of the course?
- And recognizing that learning does not stop when the semester ends, what do you want your course to prepare the students to do one year or five years into the future?
Answering these kinds of questions will help you make wise decisions about the course.
- Even if you’ve taught this course many times before, revisit your learning outcomes in light of what you yourself are learning about teaching online. In an online course, too much content can be challenging for students. Allow the learning outcomes to drive the course content and activities. Clearly articulating student learning outcomes will help you make the hard choices you’ll need to make about what content and activities to include.
The backward design concept was first promoted by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in their book Understanding by Design. They encourage faculty to consider three questions:
- What should students hear, read, view or otherwise encounter? In other words, knowledge they should be familiar with.
- What knowledge and skills should students master? In other words, what is important for them to know and do?
- What big ideas and understandings should students retain? What will they retain long after your course has ended?
In articulating learning outcomes, choose action verbs and avoid verbs that are unclear or can’t be observed and measured easily, like ‘appreciate’ and ‘understand’.
One possible format for stating learning outcomes is:
- Following this course (or activity), students will be able to [action verb] [learning statement].
You may want to consult a verb chart such as this one that correlates to Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy with particular action verbs. Just remember that students are whole people, so think about affective (emotions, valuing) and psychomotor (physical, movement) learning outcomes as well. How People Learn has more information about learning taxonomies and the taxonomy of significant learning.
The University’s Assessment of Student Learning has further guidance on writing learning outcomes.