Although many teachers create courses without ever articulating exactly what they want students to take away from the experience (beyond simply “learning the content”), most well designed courses begin with specific course goals and student-learning outcomes or objectives. Goals and outcomes are similar in that they describe the intended purposes and expected results of teaching activities and establish the foundation for assessment. Goals are statements about general aims or purposes of education that are broad, long-range intended objectives and concepts. Outcomes are brief, clear statements that describe the desired learning outcomes of instruction; i.e., the specific skills, values, and attitudes students should exhibit that reflect the broader goals.
When you decide what you want students to take away from the course first, you can be more focused and deliberate in designing all course content—lectures, classroom activities, and assessments—to lead toward those goals and outcomes; this style of course design is sometimes referred to as “backward design.”
Before designing student-learning outcomes, let the mission and goals of the program help direct your course goals; see Assessment for an idea of how these various factors interact. If your course is a General Education course—that is, it was formally approved by the General Education Oversight Committee (GEOC) to meet specific General Education competency requirements, begin by familiarizing yourself with the learning outcomes specified for the course content area; refer to the GEOC Assessment and Learning Outcomes website.
Understand the purpose of student learning outcomes, which communicate instructional expectations to students and direct the design of your teaching.
After reviewing the New Deal primary sources, students will debate the effectiveness of New Deal programs using at least six pieces of evidence.
Follow the ABCD Model. The key to developing outcomes is to focus on the ABCD (audience, behavior, condition, and degree) model:
- A (audience) Who is the target audience? (e.g., “Students will…”)
- B (behavior) What is the real work to be accomplished by the student? (e.g., “debate”) These should be both observable and measurable behaviors. They should refer to action verbs that describe behaviors.
- C (condition) What are the conditions/constraints within which the audience will be expected to perform these tasks? (e.g., “After reviewing the New Deal primary sources”)
- D (degree) How will the behavior need to be performed? (e.g., “using at least six pieces of evidence”)
Write from the student’s perspective. Faculty often mistakenly write outcomes from the teaching perspective, but concentration needs to be on what students learn, not what you convey
Focus in the cognitive domain. Outcomes can be cognitive, affective or psychomotor, though most apply to the cognitive domain. A common mistake is to write outcomes in the affective domain (focusing on what you want your graduates to think or care about) when they are more readily articulated and measurable in the cognitive domain (focusing on what you want your graduates to know). When we analyze our affective goals, we often realize that they are more teaching goals than student-learning goals. Nevertheless, affective goals are occasionally applicable. There may also be appropriate objectives in the psychomotor domain. These skill-based objectives might be more commonly found in classes like labs, where the ability to physically manipulate a tool or instrument is necessary.
Ensure that outcomes are measurable. Effective outcomes are stated using action verbs (“develop an understanding of…” is not measurable). See Bloom’s Taxonomy as a resource.
Keep language concise and student friendly. Outcomes should be short, focused, and to the point. In the example above, we only include the most important descriptive details and we minimize jargon. The only term that students might be unaware of is “New Deal programs.” This is important for novice learners coming to a new course or discipline.
Seek out support if you need it. See UConn’s Assessment website for more information on how to incorporate this philosophy into your teaching. Contact the Instructional Design Team for additional help in writing outcomes.