Course Learning Outcomes or Course Learning Objectives?



What exactly are course learning outcomes and why are higher educational institutions moving in this direction? First, the distinction between course learning outcomes and course learning objectives needs to be established. Course learning outcomes are student-centred and are statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand, and/or be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning (Kennedy et al). On the other hand, course learning objectives are instructor centred and explain what the instructor is responsible for in the course. They should be linked to one’s teaching philosophy and teaching style (Kennedy et al).

There is a shift in the international trends in education from “teacher centred” approach to a “student centred” approach. Some of the reasons for the shift to learning outcomes include:

  • Integrating course design through integrating student needs, instructor expertise and disciplinary requirements,
  • They are a measureable way of demonstrating learning. They clarify course purpose and assessment for learning,
  • Acknowledges relationship of evidence to conclusion,
  • Engagement with course content and
  • Improves overall teaching effectiveness (Ascough, 2011).

Other reasons to shift to learning outcomes includes the alignment between teaching methods, assessment techniques, assessment criteria and learning outcomes.  These connections help to make the learning process more transparent by ensuring that assessment mirrors the learning outcomes.  This type of process includes constructive alignment with constructive identified as the student learning and alignment as the instructor part (Kennedy et al).

Linking course learning outcomes, teaching, learning activities and assessment may be challenging for the instructor.  When writing the course learning outcomes by utilizing Bloom’s three domains of learning – cognitive, affective, and psychomotor –  it will assist in identifying possible teaching and learning activities as well alternative methods for assessment. After clearly defining the course learning outcomes, select teaching and learning methods that ensure the learning outcomes are received. When assessing the course learning outcome, check to see how the student work matched with what was intended.  Rubrics are a great tool for assessment.

There are multiply benefits for the instructor, student and institution to shift from learning objectives to learning outcomes.  It may require revisiting your goals as an instructor; however, understanding course learning outcomes is an essential component to the design process and an opportunity for increased teaching effectiveness.

Ascough, R. (2011). Learning (About) Outcomes: How the focus on assessment can help overall course design. CSSHE 41(2)

Kennedy, D., Hyland, A. & Ryan, N. (2012). Writing and Using Learning Outcomes: A Practical Guide

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