Academic & Student Affairs

Key characteristics of learning outcomes

Learning outcomes provide the learning goals which a student should achieve in order to fulfil the requirements of the module and to be awarded credit.  They should be:

Measurable

Don't write any learning outcome that can't (or won't) be assessed.  If the learning goal is important enough to propose as an intended learning outcome, it should be worthy of being measured in some way.  Conversely, no assessment task or question should be designed which is not related to a learning outcome.                               

Focal

Outcomes should be sufficient to enable staff, students and employers to share a common perception of the requirements of the module.  Each learning outcome statement should describe a learning achievement which is considered fundamental to the purpose of the module.  In testing a prospective outcome, you should ask whether you can envisage a situation where it might be recommended that a learner should gain the credit for the module despite not having satisfied the prospective outcome.  If the answer is 'yes', then the learning outcome is clearly not fundamental and should not be included.  if the answer is 'no', then the learning outcome is demonstrably fundamental and you should include it.  The number of learning outcomes per module (and remember that these do not include the statements of underpinning knowledge and understanding) should as a 'rule of thumb' vary between two and five.
Because each learning outcome is fundamental to the purpose of the module, you should not only ensure that it is assessed, you should also ensure that it contributes a significant assessment weighting towards the final assessment mark awarded to the module.  For example, if a module learning outcome is 'demonstrate competence in group report writing ' it should only be included in the module specification if the assessment strategy allocates a percentage of marks to both the structure and presentation of the assessed report and to the group work component.  This would be irrespective, for example, of the accuracy of its content or its interpretation of concepts.

Focussed

Ensure that each learning outcome statement has a single primary purpose rather than a dual or compound purpose because this aids clarity.   A dual outcome may be problematic if a student demonstrates achievement in one area but not in another.  'Analyse the marketing policy of a high street store and evaluate the marketing practices of British manufacturers' is an example of a dual learning outcome statement because there are two separate learning activities.

Balanced between the general and specific

Learning outcomes should be written that are neither so general that they become indistinct and immeasurable nor so specific that the module risks becoming inflexible.  For example, 'demonstrate a knowledge of tidal deltas' is vague because it does not indicate what kind of knowledge is required.  Is it knowledge of the morphology, tidal flow dynamics, sedimentary budget, sedimentary bed-forms etc?  On the other hand, 'Conduct a survey of student perception of risk' may turn out to be unnecessarily restrictive if other topics for surveys might be preferred in future years.
Note that you should not disaggregate learning outcomes unless it leads to a discernible difference in the assessment criteria to be applied.  In other words, avoid stating as separate specific outcomes what are in effect different examples of the same more general outcome.  'Select linguistic data for analysis and evaluation' could be split into two outcomes: 'Select spoken data for analysis and evaluation' and 'select written data for analysis and evaluation'.  There is little point in breaking down the concept 'linguistic data' into two unless the spoken data is going to be assessed using very different criteria from the written data.

Expressed in simple language

Learning outcomes should be written in terms that are easily comprehensible to non-academics (e.g. students and employers).  It is important to avoid academic jargon.  'Use linguistic techniques and methodologies to evaluate the communicative impact of phonetic, syntactic and semantic variation within pragmatic discourse' would be better understood if it was reworded as: Judge the effectiveness of examples of spoken and written human communication by applying basic linguistic principles'.

Expressed in objective language

 Learning outcomes are objective statements and should not contain evaluative words.  Therefore, you should avoid using words such as good, adequate, effective, successful etc.  Such evaluative language belongs to the assessment or performance criteria which enable examiners to judge whether the outcomes of the modules have been achieved at the appropriate level.

Avoid reference to process

Traditional programme objectives are frequently written in terms of input, process and the student experience, e.g. 'upon completion of this module students will have undertaken a project'.  Learning outcomes, on the other hand, focus on what the student knows and is able to do at the end of the learning experience - so the focus is on the outcome and not the activity.  For example, 'is able to record pollen from slides' is better than 'is able to use a pollen microscope'.

Aligned with subject benchmark statements

Module Outcomes

Subject benchmark statements for English

1 .Analyse visual and written material using the basic principles of semiotic and linguistic analysis.

 “Knowledge of the structure, levels and discourse functions of the English Language”

 “Critical skills in the close reading and analysis of texts”

 “The capacity to analyse and critically examine diverse forms of discourse”

2. Judge the effectiveness of specific examples of human communication through application of basic semiotic and linguistic principles.

 “Rhetorical skills of effective communication and argument, both oral and written”

 “Skills in critical reasoning”

3. Encode and decode English words and sentences using simple phonemic transcription.

 “Knowledge of useful and precise critical terminology and, where appropriate, linguistic and stylistic terminology

4. Demonstrate competence in group report writing.

 “Competence in the planning and execution of…project work”

 “The ability to work with and in relation to others through the presentation of ideas and information and the collective negotiation of solutions”