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Why We Need Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are statements designed to help learners better grasp the knowledge they should aim to get from a certain course, activity, or module. Well written learning outcomes emphasize proper application of the course material and how it applies to the leaners’ real world situation. The benefits of using learning outcomes in your eLearning material may seem obvious, but in this post, we explain exactly why they’re so important.

Example: Basic Japanese

For a language/culture course, learning outcomes might look something like these:

In this course, learners will

  • Develop basic skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing in Japanese
  • Be able to read and write hiragana, katakana and basic kanji characters, and demonstrate comprehension of short texts written in them
  • Have a good command of the Japanese pronunciation system and basic grammar knowledge
  • Learn to conduct simple daily conversations and read and write short sentences

Isn’t it Obvious?

While it may seem like a no-brainer to assume that you’ll learn basic Japanese language skills from a course called Basic Japanese, the best learning outcomes are deliberate in outlining with precision the skills a learner should take away from a course.

“…students already know they want a degree. The challenge is to help students become highly intentional about the forms of learning and accomplishment that the degree should represent.”

College Learning for the New Global Century, AAC&U, p. 29

Learners already know in a general sense why they’re taking a certain course or module – whether at work or at school. A strong list of learning outcomes tells them exactly why and how they’re going to be able to apply these skills to their career or personal life.

Learning Outcomes vs. Learning Objectives

The difference between these two terms isn’t generally recognized, and many trainers and learners alike find them to be interchangeable. They are best differentiated, however, by considering a learning objective to be an outline of the material an instructor intends to cover or the questions a course will aim to address. A learning outcome, on the other hand, focuses on the application of the content from the learner’s point of view specifically.

Developing your Learning Outcomes

When considering the learning outcomes you want to emphasize in course material, remember to focus on measurable outcomes. Additionally, make use of them as much as you can; they are sometimes relegated to program-wide assessment or course overview, when they can be equally beneficial when applied to each individual module or activity as well.

Here are a few tips for writing effective learning outcomes:

It’s about the learner

Always consider learning outcomes from the learner’s perspective. As discussed above, outcomes should be about the skills and knowledge a learner will take away, not the material they’ll be exposed to.

Use your words

Try to avoid vagueness as much as possible. Try replacing understand, use, and know with interpret, implement, or explain, where appropriate. Be concrete and clear. And ensure that the material presented backs up these outcomes and delivers on them (this is key!).

But how?

Make sure that your learning outcomes are quantifiable. Learners are better off knowing that they’ll be able to “accurately implement three key fire safety measures,” rather than being told that they will “learn about fire safety procedures”.

Learning outcomes are a great way to emphasize what exactly your course offers to its learners, so always design your material around its ideal learning outcomes to help define the results.

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