Course Aims and Learning Outcomes

Course Aims and Learning Outcomes

Course aims and learning outcomes are important aspects of curriculum design. Often, they are assumed to be synonyms and will be used interchangeably. However, it is important to understand their individual purpose and how they are employed in the design of a course.

Why are they important?

Faculty and learners benefit from engaging with Aims and Outcomes. They support curriculum design by:

  • Directing the design of a programme or course by addressing the needs of the learners;
  • Providing the basis for coherence throughout a programme or course;
  • Enabling learners to make informed choices about the programme or courses they wish to study; and
  • Ensuring learners have a clear understanding about what they are expected to achieve throughout their studies.

Learning Aims

Learning Aims are typically applied at the programme and course level. They focus on the intended results of teaching, from the perspective of the teacher. Learning Aims set out the scope and the value, describing what the faculty intends to achieve through the delivery of the course.

They should answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the programme/course?
  • What is the programme/course trying to achieve?
  • What are the benefits for the learner?

As Learning Aims are broad statements of intent illustrating the overall purpose of the programme, they are not required to be measurable.

Learning Outcomes

Where Learning Aims are high-level statements of purpose and Learning Objectives act as operational descriptors of intent from the faculty perspective – Learning Outcomes specifically relate to the actions and achievements of the learners.

Outcomes can be applied at both the programme and course level. They describe both the skills and knowledge that learners will develop, and also describe how they will be demonstrated through summative assessment processes.

Learning outcomes describe the observable, measurable (assessable) demonstrations of knowledge and skills. They are derived from the Learning Aims set at the higher level and are intrinsically linked to the designed learning activities and assessment methods.

How do Learning Outcomes differ at the Programme and Course level?
Programme Learning Outcomes Statements of what successful learners will achieve upon completion of their degree. They are aspirational and capture the broader outcomes of learning. They are distinct Learning Outcomes in their own right and not an aggregation of the Learning Outcomes applied at the course level.
Course Learning Outcomes Course Learning Outcomes align and contribute to programme level outcomes. They describe the mechanisms in which the outcomes will be measured and through which learning activities they will be achieved.

Well-written Learning Outcomes have three basic elements:

  • An action verb that describes the learner behaviour which will demonstrate learning;
  • Contextual information in which the activity will happen; and
  • The level to which (how well) the outcome will be demonstrated.

‘How well’ an outcome should be demonstrated is the most difficult aspect of writing Learning Outcomes. Often, this is supported with the provision of a detailed assessment criteria (known as a rubric) which helps to articulate the broader range of marks attainable against a given Learning Outcome based on the performance of the learner.

Designing Learning Outcomes

If you're designing Learning Outcomes, either for the first time or as part of a redesign of your course curriculum, it is important to ensure you create an explicit relationship between the purpose of the course, the teaching and learning activities and the assessment mechanisms. Bloom's Taxonomy and Constructive Alignment can support this design.

You may also wish to consult the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) Guidance on creating appropriate and relevant Learning Outcomes.

Related materials

When designing Learning Outcomes, it is important to be aware of the relevant frameworks in order to align outcomes to the appropriate level:

If you would like support or assistance with Curriculum Design or any other aspects of your teaching and learning practice, please contact Learning Innovation.

References

Anderson , L. & Krathwohl , D., 2001. A taxonomy for teaching, learning and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Biggs, J., 1999. Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Bloom, B., 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc..

Deci, E. & Ryan, R., 2012. Motivation, Personality, and Development Within Embedded Social Contexts: An Overview of Self-Determination Theory. The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation, pp. 85-107.