COURSE LEARNING OUTCOMES: How to create them, align them, and benefit from them

Over time and experience, you have developed an extensive schema related to your area of expertise. It is what makes you an expert in the field and differentiates you from the students before you. Facilitating an opportunity for those students to begin the journey towards acquiring a similarly developed schema is what drives the best educators, and it drives them because they want the next generation to carry the baton and potentially advance the field even further.

In designing a curriculum, a highly effective strategy is to reverse your schema, and identify all the building blocks that make it up and the order they go in. Articulating this hierarchical journey towards expertise is extremely powerful because it allows you to judge where your students might currently sit in relation to it. Your course is then pitched there as a starting point. The 2 minute video below attempts to explain this:

Designing outcomes

The outcomes of the course will be the key skills and knowledge that constitute the next stage of the developing schema within the given amount of time. The skill of the educator is to be able to define these skills and knowledge precisely, and the components that go towards making each outcome whole, whilst always considering how they are all connected. Visualising the curriculum (something I’ve discussed before), is a great way to do this, and the image below is a mind map of an education schema I’ve developed.

The detailed map of schema development also allows for the skills and knowledge to be categorised. Often, sequences of learning will be based around themes or main ideas, and these can be categorised as course learning outcomes. A common course learning outcome is to be able to apply knowledge of a topic. But of course, there is likely to be more than a single piece of knowledge in the makeup of a whole course, and so it is necessary to have sub outcomes inside the main outcome.

The precision can be difficult. Experts tend to assume that students know more than they do. This hindsight bias tends to result in learning sequences that omit key ideas or information needed for a novice learner to piece new concepts together and make new connections in their schema. Awareness of this ‘curse of knowledge’ demands that the articulated schema, and knowledge journey towards acquiring it, is a detailed one.

Aligning outcomes

Identifying the key skills and knowledge allows you to align formative assessment to ensure the content is understood. This greatly assists the student in being able to more efficiently construct the next stage of their own schema as they become increasingly aware of what precise knowledge they are struggling with. If you have provided adequate resources related to each key area, your students will be able to master the weaknesses.

Using outcomes to shape rubrics and close learning gaps

When rubrics are added to assessment, these outcomes can be assigned to them.

The teacher grades the assessment using the rubric

The technology automatically feeds the selected scores into the gradebook.

The student can visually see which areas they were un/successful in.

When the assessment is graded, if the technology permits, as is the case with Canvas, the rubric results feed into a student view that aggregates the outcome results over the whole course.

Such a view provides students with more precise feedback on the areas of strength and weakness demonstrated in their results. This allows them to self-regulate what they do next. It is this more directed communication of what they will need to ‘fix’ to close the learning gaps that increases the motivation to do so, as opposed to feedback that only provides a vague sense of what the issues may be.

What’s in it for me?

Constructing precise outcomes and aligning them to assessment and the sequences of learning you provide to students doesn’t just create a more efficient learning culture – it also makes your job as a teacher more enjoyable as the improved feedback (and thus opportunity for students to address learning gaps) will result in faster schema development and inevitably less interruption to the flow of your course. We all know that is a more enjoyable teaching experience!

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer at The University of Adelaide. I’m on Twitter too


      1. Oh. I doesn’t for me. How strange. I might go back in and retype it and see if that fixes it. I might ask you again in a minute if that’s ok?


      2. Ah, i see what you are talking about. OMG – thank you, I thought you were talking about the last blog i wrote which had the word learning in it too, but it was the title of the site. Thank you for spotting it and being kind enough to let me know 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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