Writing Learning Outcomes Tip #2: Selecting a Verb

By Ryan Smith, Director of University Assessment Services, Illinois State University

Writing Learning Outcomes Tips #1 covered the questions you should ask yourself before writing an outcome. This blog post will address the selection of a verb.

Why the Verb in a Learning Outcome is Important

The action verb simply describes what students will learn in the activity or assignment. The verb does not:

  • Describe what students possess. This is different from what students do. A learning outcome along the lines of “students will be knowledgeable of research methods” tells us nothing about what students do. We have no idea students are knowledgeable of anything until 1) they demonstrate it and 2) we assess it. Avoid verbs like “understand” or “aware.”
  • What students will do after they graduate. We want students to value lifelong learning or posses the ability to discuss important topics after they graduate. The problem is that we have no control or responsibility for student learning once they graduate college.
  • Verbs describe what students do, not what we teach. For example, “students will be introduced to…” assesses what we do as instructors, not what students do when they learn. Learning outcomes should assess learning, not pedagogy.

Two Options for Finding Verbs

  1. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy. Determine the level of knowledge you want students to possess (remember, understand, analyze, apply, create, or evalute) and find a verb that goes with the level.
  2. Determine the activity (as opposed to the level of knowlege) and find a verb appropriate to the activity. Personally, I like this approach because it is easier to operationalize. This was developed by Cliff Adelman in a really good paper about verbs and learning outcomes.

The verbs’s associated with Bloom’s Taxonomy and Adelman’s actions and verbs can be downloaded here.

Once you have selected the verbs, the next step is to write the learning outcome. Several frameworks exist. These are covered in Writing Learning Outcomes Tip #3.

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