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Writing Clear Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are statements describing what students should be able to demonstrate, know (knowledge), think (attitudes, values), or do (skill) by the end of the program/course. The recommendation is to use four or five outcomes per program. Keep the following questions in mind when designing outcomes:

  • What are the expectations for student learning success in the program or course?
  • Do your learning outcomes reflect a specific level of cognition, affect, or behavior? Focus on one at a time; avoid grouping outcomes in one statement.
  • Are different types of outcomes, especially different cognitive levels, represented?
  • Are you using one type of outcome for each statement?
  • Are the learning outcomes using verbs to describe what students will do?
  • Are the outcomes measurable?
  • Are learning outcomes present repeatedly in the curriculum?

We use SMART characteristics to formulate our learning outcomes. That is,

Outcomes are

  • Specific – refers to the use of easily interpretable and unambiguous language of what is to be learned in the course/program.
  • Measurable – refers to the extent to which an outcome can be objectively assessed against a distinct standard.
  • Achievable – refers to the learner’s ability to attain the learning outcome based on their current knowledge, skills, and capacity.
  • Relevant – refers to the impact and significance of attaining the learning outcome such that it is aligned with course/program goals and follows a hierarchical sequence of learning.
  • Time-framed – refers to the feasibility of attaining the outcome over a reasonable length of time.

Outcomes that demonstrate SMART characteristics help to support evidence of learning and provide direction for how learning can be confirmed.

  • Students will be able to identify and illustrate the historical development of literary, cultural, and/or theoretical texts within their concentration of study through the use of representative examples (UT, English, PhD program).
  • Students will effectively communicate scientific concepts and results in both written and oral forms (UC Santa Cruz, microbiology, MS program).
  • Students will demonstrate speaking skills in the target language consistent
    with advanced levels as defined by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (Missouri State, modern languages, BS program).

Examples of Clear Learning Outcomes for Courses


Good: Differentiate between historiographical theories and debates in the field, identifying three primary benefits and limitations of each.

Poor: Know theories related to debate.


Good: Given a list of common metals and nonmetals, compare the chemical differences and similarities of each.

Poor: List common metals and nonmetals.

Public Health

Good: Given access to a statistical analysis system, perform a regression analysis on a data set and analyze results.

Poor: Use statistical analysis.


Good: Given a set of corporate financial documents, explain the limitations and purposes of each document, using key accounting concepts.

Poor: Develop an appreciation for research skills.


Good: Given a federal statute, describe the relationship between a case and a statute, using appropriate legal problem-solving methods.

Poor: Understand basic legal bibliography tools.

Animal Science

Good: Given a drawing of a specimen, the student will be able to identify and label the microanatomy of the kidney, specifying all structures relevant to the production of urine.

Poor: Know the anatomy of the kidney.