Learning Outcomes

Definitions and Background

"Learning outcomes are statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand and/or be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning." (Writing and Using Learning Outcomes, p. 5)

This broad definition uses the term "process of learning" which describes everything from a single assignment to an entire degree. The definition that follows specifically describes course-level learning outcomes which are commonly found in a course syllabus.

"A formal statement of what students are expected to learn in a course. Expected learning outcomes statements refer to specific knowledge, practical skills, areas of professional development, attitudes, higher-order thinking skills, etc. that faculty members expect students to develop, learn, or master during a course." (Suskie, Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, 2004)

Program-level learning outcomes describe learning that will be common to all graduates of a program. In Ontario, universities have adopted the Quality Assurance Framework which govern the approval and review of undergraduate programs. As part of that process, universities have agreed to incorporate the Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents (OCAV) Guidelines for University Undergraduate Degree Level Expectations. For more on program and curriculum review, please see the Western Guide to Curriculum Review.

Online Resources

What is a Learning Outcome (PDF) is a definition of program level learning outcomes and examples from four disciplines.  Written by Natasha Kenny, University of Guelph.

Honours and Masters Degree Benchmark Statements provides examples from UK program level learning outcome statements from over 50 disciplines.

Rubrics for Assessment of Learning Outcomes AACU Value Rubrics for the assessment of 15 fundamental undergraduate learning outcomes, including critical thinking, inquiry and analysis, quantitative literacy, teamwork, intercultural knowledge and competence, civic knowledge and engagement, as well as written and oral communication.

Writing and Using Learning Outcomes: a Practical Guide (PDF) is a summary of recent developments in curriculum design and offers a methodology for designing programs and courses in terms of learning outcomes.

Why Write Objectives? (PDF) - a short article by Karron Lewis from the Center for Teaching Effectiveness at The University of Texas at Austin on developing course-level learning objectives.

Learning Objectives: A Basic Guide (PDF) is a handbook from the University of Guelph's Teaching Support Services on writing course learning objectives.

Verbs that Express Learning Outcomes arranged according to Bloom's Taxonomy

Writing and Assessing Student Learning Outcomes Handbook from Texas Tech University's Teaching, Learning and Technology Center

Writing Learning Outcomes and Assessment Criteria in Art and Design (PDF) discusses the challenges of developing and assessing learning outcomes in creative disciplines.

Resources for Learning Outcomes Workshops from the Institute for Teaching Learning at the University of Sydney. See in particular their Guide to Writing Learning Outcomes (.doc) and their examples from faculties (xls).

Learning Outcomes (PDF) - an annotated list of resources on developing and assessing learning outcomes.

Learning Outcomes: Learning Achieved by the End of a Course of Program from George Brown College has a summary of outcomes-based education and the development of learning outcomes.

Journal Articles

Hubball, H., & Burt, H. (2007). Learning Outcomes and Program-level Evaluation in a Four-year Undergraduate Pharmacy Curriculum. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 71(5).

Hubball, H., Gold, N., Mighty, J., & Britnell, J. (2007). Supporting the implementation of externally generated learning outcomes and learning-centered curriculum development: An integrated framework. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2007(112), 93-105.

Simon, B., & Taylor, J. (2009). What is the Value of Course-Specific Learning Goals? Journal of College Science Teaching, Nov/Dec, 52-57.


Bresciani, M. (2006). Outcomes-Based Academic and Co-Curricular Program Review. Sterling, VA: Stylus.