Subject Learning objectives and outcomes

So what's the difference between an objective and an outcome.

An objective, according to the Edutech wiki, state that "Learning objectives are statements that define the expected goal of a curriculum, course, lesson or activity in terms of demonstrable skills or knowledge that will be acquired by a student as a result of instruction". Outcomes, on the other hand, state what a students is expected to be able to do after their experiences in education. Objectives could be defined as what the teacher wants the student to be able to do, outcomes as what the students can do. Here's a link to an explanation.

In this first step in constructive alignment, let's analyse the subject objectives or outcomes and determine what the student either aims to be able to do or will be able to do on completion of the subject.

Look at a subject's outcomes and see what the verb is, what content needs to be covered and the context. What outcomes do you want students to achieve?

Here's some questions to ask yourself when writing or revising learning outcomes.

What's the main aim of teaching and learning in the subject? What does the syllabus say the subject contains? What does the subject need to cover to ensure students learn the main aims and objectives? Ideally, 4-6 learning objectives or outcomes would be optimum. If there are more than this, consider how you might consolidate them down into fewer objectives? How will I assess this objective? What will the student outcome be? What will the students produce and what will it look like?

A great resource to read on writing learning outcomes for statistics can be found here.

Do the learning outcomes have an Action Verb?
Does the learning outcome identify Content and the Context in which it can be applied?
Write an outcomes that contains these elements.

Here's some steps to help you with the task?

Identify from the aim or abstract of the subject and together with the teacher of the subject and an educational designer, what the main points of learning of the subject are and the reason/purpose of the subject.
Develop an abstract that describes well what the subject is about about and make it a meaningful description of the subject as this entry goes into the handbook. The language needs to be meaningful and understandable by students who haven't done the subject as they are the audience. The abstract markets to them to make them want to do the subject and gives a clear picture of what to expect when they do the subject. Make sure that you think about and write down in dot points what the main ideas and concepts you want students to learn and the actions you want them to be able to do in assessment. This will help you write the aim and the objectives.

Now, there are three elements of a learning outcome.

  • a verb, the content and the context in which the content would be related to

verb - what needs to be done at which level
content - syllabus to be covered, the content the verb is meant to address
context - the discipline in which the verb is to be deployed (sourced from Biggs, 2010)

Think about what sort of knowledge is required - declarative (knowing about) or functioning (requiring students to exercise active control over problems and decision in appropriate content domains) knowledge (Biggs, 2010, p.121)

Here's an activity you might like to do:
Think about:
  • the kind of knowledge declarative or functioning
  • the level of thinking/understanding - verb
  • the content area
  • the context of learning

  • Using these four headings writing a Subject Learning Outcomes by stating the kind of knowledge, the verb or action, the content area and the context in which the verb will be enacted
  • Check them to see if the knowledge, content and level of thinking are relevant, cover the main aims for the subject, are clearly written, and are assessable
  • Make sure that the grammar is correct, that the sentence reads well and that it includes an element from the abstract you developed.
  • It needs to be written in language that a student will understand.
  • Identify the level of understanding required at the level of the subject i.e. first year, second year etc, and for the area/content/topic to be covered
  • Check that the verb used says what action the student has to do, and at what level
  • Note: a range of verbs can be used for each objective to provide development of the level of thinking across the subject (Bloom's or SOLO taxonomy can help guide this)
  • Bigg's (2010) warns to watch out for redundant verbs such as describe and explain because if a student can explain they can describe it

From the abstract and the dot points you made about the subject, develop 3-5 more outcomes which cover the content, context and actions students will take with each. If something is mentioned in the abstract there should be a related outcome in the subject.

However, think about the balance between coverage and depth required in a course of each type of knowledge - more coverage of topics generally means less depth due to time constraints.

Think about the development of skills, knowledge and application through the application of Bloom's or SOLO Taxonomy and make sure that each objective builds across a subject, even at a first year level there should be development of skills from low to high.
Now look at the AQF for the level of course level 7 for bachelor's, level 9 for Masters, or whatever level you're working at.
Check the learning outcomes against the appropriate AQF level.Check the learning outcomes against any Threshold Learning Outcomes to make sure you've met any industry requirements.

Now you can look at the design of an assessment.

These pages created by Deb Murdoch, an Academic Lead on the Student Transition and Retention Program at Charles Sturt University and course and subject analyst in the Faculty of Business.

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