Writing Learning Outcomes Tip #3: Writing the Learning Outcome

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

Writing Learning Outcomes Tip #1 covered the questions you should ask yourself before writing an outcome. Writing Learning Outcomes Tip #2 addressed the selection of a verb. This blog will address three types of frameworks for writing the outcome. Before writing a learning outcome, it is highly recommended that the steps in Tips 1 and 2 are addressed.

Framework #1: ABCD Method*

  • Audience: Who is the instructor intented for?
  • Behavior: What tasks will students be expected to do, value, or know?
  • Condition: Under what conditions will students be expected to perform the tasks?
  • Degree: The level of performance.

*Elements copied or adapted from the University of Maryland Library and Webster University.

Examples of the ABCD Method:

  • Given a sentence written in the past or present tense (condition), the student (audience) will rewrite the sentence (behavior) in future tense with no errors in tense or tense contradiction (degree).
  • Geography 101 students (audience) will be able to connect online data sources with G.I.S. software programs for the analysis and presentation of specific geographic research problems (behavior).
  • Art History interns (audience) will be able to advocate for the advancement of art and culture and its social and economic impact on a local community (behavior) through a community volunteer internship experience (condition).

Recommendations

  • You don’t have to include all of the ABCDs in this framework. The most important part is the behavior (B).
  • I am not a big fan of how the degree (D) part of this framework is used. Cutoffs like “80% of students will obtain a C or better” seem arbitrary and unhelpful to me. I would rather see the degree part left off. Or, better yet, articulated in a way to defers to faculty expertise and judgment (as with the first learning outcome in the list above).

Framework #2: Learning Outcomes Template

This approach is also described in the University of Illinois Student Affairs Assessment Plan Template:

Intended learners   Activity*   Action verb Intended outcome
Who   Will be able to    
  • Intended learners are the students in your class, program, or activity.
  • The activity describes the program, activity, service, or experience offered to students. For example, “students who attend class” or “students who participate in the safe zone training.”
  • The action verb describes what students will learn in the activity. It does not describe what they possess or what they will do after they graduate. Thus, avoid verbs like “understand” or “aware.” Verbs also 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.
  • The intended outcome is the cognitive, behavioral, or affective change you want to see in students. Descriptions and guiding questions:
    • Cognitive outcomes refer to knowledge and skills. The guiding question is: what do you want students to know?
    • Behavioral outcomes are focused on physical activites. The guiding question is: what do you want students to be able to do?
    • Affective outcomes are concerned with values and attitudes. The guiding question is: what do you want students to value or care about?

Examples

Intended learners   Activity   Action verb Intended outcome
Undergraduate students enrolled in the art history program who participate in a community volunteer internship will be able to advocate for the advancement of art and culture and its social and economic impact on a local community.
Students in the geography program who are enrolled in the introductory G.I.S. software course will be able to connect online data sources with G.I.S. software programs for the analysis and presentation of specific geographic research problems.
Students in the nursing program who are enrolled in the phlebotomy course will be able to evaluate pain levels in acute illnesses and injuries and prescribe appropriate remedies.
*The original template separates the activity column into two columns, one for an action verb and another for the activity. I think it’s easier to just use one column. 
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