At Jackrabbit LX, we envision, design, and scale learning experience designs tailored to our client’s needs. Those needs are extraordinary learner-centric experiences. These experiences begin in what we call our Discover Phase. 

The Discover phase involves research designed to uncover and account for anything essential to the program’s success, such as our partner’s key performance indicators, how best to work with faculty or subject matter experts, successful competitive products or models, existing data about the current version of the program, unique learner needs, and more. 

Among the “more” is drafting learning outcomes. In fact, I may be a bit of a nerd when it comes to learning outcomes. I love writing them!

What’s a learning outcome?

A learning outcome is a statement of the knowledge, skills, and/or abilities or dispositions that a person should have upon completing an instructional experience. 

Before we get into the strategies, let’s level set. What makes a strong learning outcome anyway?

Throughout all of my years as an educator, curriculum developer, and learning experience designer, I’ve distilled the best qualities of learning outcomes into these three elements:

  1. Learning outcomes must be learner-centered.
  2. Learning outcomes must be authentic, realistic, and specific to an acquired skill, knowledge, or ability.
  3. Learning outcomes must be measurable through an assessment or application of the acquired skill, knowledge, or ability.

An example of a learning outcome for, well, this blog post:
Readers of this blog will analyze strategies for writing strong learning outcomes.

What’s a strong learning outcome?

Let’s look at the learning outcome for this post again.
Readers of this blog will analyze strategies for writing strong learning outcomes.

Is this a strong learning outcome? Why or why not?

  1. Is it learner-centered?

    The outcome explicitly states what is expected of the learner. So, yes!
    Readers of this blog will analyze strategies
     

  2. Is it authentic, realistic, and specific to acquired skill, knowledge, or ability?Yes. This outcome states the actual performance by the learner, in this case, the reader. The knowledge that the reader will acquire is also presented.
    “… analyze strategies for writing strong learning outcomes.”

  3. Can the outcome be measured through an assessment or application of the acquired skill, knowledge, or ability?

While there won’t be a test at the end of this post, we can, indeed, assess a reader after they have read the blog to check on their ability to analyze the strategies set forth. For example, we can ask the reader to compare strategies or to choose a favorite strategy and justify that choice.

Some learning outcome strategies

Now that we have a shared appreciation of the qualities of a strong learning outcome, here are a few of my favorite strategies for writing learning outcomes when I work with our clients.

1. Use a sentence starter template to structure your learning outcome statement. Keep it simple. I use the following as a “fill in the blank” exercise to help me keep the three qualities top of mind. I think of the audience/learner and the activity or performance they will carry out to show what they have learned.

The ________ will ___________
[learner] will [measurable action verb] [skill/knowledge/ability].

Examples:

  • The student will create a map showing the capitals of the world
  • The learning experience design student will apply a variety of strategies to write measurable outcomes.
  • The new employee will use the company intranet to find descriptions of company benefits.

2. Don’t mention the instructor or teacher’s actions. This is one of the most common mistakes made when writing outcomes. Learning outcomes are often mistakenly geared toward what the instructor will do, not what the learner will do. Keep the outcomes learner-centered.  For example, don’t say, “The instructor will provide,” or “Demonstrate to learners.”

3. If it’s not something a learner can show, the verb has got to go. Use measurable and observable verbs. Please banish the following phrases from your learning outcomes vocabulary:

  • Learners will understand… (How will we know they understand?)
  • Learners will demonstrate… (How?)
  • Learners will appreciate… (What does this mean?)
  • Learners will gain familiarity with… (Huh? This is vague.)

4. No one taxonomy or framework “rules them all.” So, neither should your approach to learning outcomes be ruled by any single list of “verbs.” Sure, Bloom’s Taxonomy has been the “go to” since 1956. It’s a fantastic starting point. Don’t rely solely on good old Benjamin’s work. Consider different frameworks and the associated approach to learning outcomes. Such as:

  • Backward Design. Learning goals, activities, and assessments are aligned. 
  • Integrated Course Design. A 12-step process for creating and aligning learning outcomes, activities, rubrics, assessment protocols, and the learning objectives in light of the context and potential challenges. 
  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL). A model for addressing the diverse learning needs of all types of learners.

5. Create an alignment map. Use whatever document, chart, spreadsheet, or scrap paper you have on hand to map out the learning experience you are creating. I list all of the outcomes. I then look at all of the activities. I write the associated activities next to the outcomes they align with. I proceed with aligning the assessments. If I have any gaps, I fill them. I rewrite my outcomes to make them more clear or otherwise rewrite any activities or assessments for tighter alignment.

What are your tips and tricks for ensuring your learning outcomes are aligned with your learners and the experiences you create? I hope you’ll share them with me.

Want to get in touch with me or learn more about my work at Jackrabbit LX, please reach out

References

Fink, L. Dee. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. eBook: Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. 

Meyer, A., Rose, D., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing. 

Wiggins GP, McTighe J. (2005).  Understanding by Design. Moorabbin, Vic: Hawker Brownlow Education.

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