Learning Outcomes

Introduction to Learning Outcomes: Backward Design

The first and most important stage in designing a course is identifying desired results. That means learning outcomes. What is a learning outcome? It is a planned and desired change in your students' knowledge that has been caused (at least in part) by your teaching.

  • What will students know as a result of taking the course?

  • What will they know how to do?

  • What will they do differently?

  • How will their views of the subject matter, the world, and themselves be transformed?

Only when you have identified the learning outcomes (and devised assessments that will measure learning) can you design activities that will help students attain them. And don't forget the situational factors, which will figure into all of your decisions.

A reminder of how Backward Design works:

3. Design Learning Experience

What will students do? How will they interact with you and one another, and how will they engage with the subject matter? What kinds of activities will help them learn?

2. Determine Acceptable Evidence

How will you (and your students) know that learning outcomes have ben met? How will you measure learning?

1. Identify Desired Results

What are the learning outcomes of your course? What will students know, understand and be able to do?

There are many ways to identify learning outcomes. What we have designed is a two-step process.

  1. The first step is to generate skills, knowledge, and other attributes that you’d like students to develop.

  2. The second is to convert that into observable and measurable learning outcomes.

Both steps are important.

Developing Learning Outcomes

As you identify what you want students to learn, it's helpful to have a comprehensive view of the types of learning that are possible and valuable. To this end, we'll use the Significant Learning Model, as it provides a language and conceptual framework for the many ways learning can be significant. The Significant Learning Model comprises six types of learning.

Diagram chart of different learning types

Foundational Knowledge: Understanding and remembering the foundational information and ideas. This is the basic understanding of the subject matter that is necessary for other kinds of learning.

Application: Learning to use critical, creative, or practical thinking to engage in a new action. This allows other kinds of learning to be useful.

Integration: Seeing and understanding connections between different ideas, people, and realms of life. This helps students put their learning in context in their own lives and in broader social spheres.

Human Dimension: Learning about oneself and others. This allows students to see the personal and social implications of their learning. In this time of remote learning, creating opportunities and providing ownership to students about their own learning has never been as important.

Caring: Developing new or different feelings, interests, or values. This creates motivation for and investment in future learning.

Learning How to Learn: Becoming a better student, scholar, and practitioner, inquiring about a subject, self-directing one’s learning process. This makes future learning more effective.

Learning isn't bound by a single course or a single term, and the absence of one or more types of learning in your course does not mean that there is a deficit. Use the Significant Learning Model to identify possibilities, but don’t sweat it if you don’t include every type of learning outcome in your course.