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Course Learning Outcomes

The expected learning for the course (course learning outcomes) is derived from "designing back" from the expected learning for the program (program learning outcome). The course outcomes contribute to the achievement of the program outcomes. Collectively, the course learning outcomes from all the courses in the program lead to the achievement of the program learning outcomes. When planning or revising a course it is important to know how this course will work with the other courses in the program to help learners achieve the program learning outcomes. Curriculum maps are often used to help situate a course within the broader program of study.

Course learning outcomes provide the anchor for course design. Assessment is linked directly to the course learning outcomes. In the assessment activities, learners demonstrate their achievement of the course learning outcomes. Similarly, learning activities are aligned with the course outcomes. Learning activities are designed and organized to help learners achieve the course learning outcomes.

What are course learning outcomes?

The course learning outcomes describe clearly what learners will know and be able to do at the end of the course. They are performance–based and results oriented. They describe learning that is significant and related to what learners will be expected to do in the "real world" ––– learning that "really matters in the long run". Course learning outcomes describe what the learners will be able to do at the end of the course—when they have integrated learning from the whole course. Each course learning outcome should align with one or more of the program learning outcomes.

Learning outcomes are different than objectives or competencies. In this article from Learning Abstracts (June 2002) Ruth Stiehl and Les Lewchuk describe how outcomes contribute to the restructuring of college curriculum. In this article they compare outcomes, objectives and competencies. Note: Your college must have a subscription to Learning Abstracts to retrieve this article from the archived publications.

The Outcomes Primer: Reconstructing the College Curriculum (3rd ed. 2008) written by Ruth Stiehl and Les Lewchuk is available in all colleges that participate in the ABC Program. Here is a taste of the book.

This website at Camosun College in B.C. provides a brief description of learning outcomes and their uses and poses a number of questions that teachers might consider when developing course learning outcomes.

Tips for writing course learning outcomes

Algonquin College has prepared a document to help teachers write course learning outcomes (called course learning requirements at Algonquin). You will find the Lifesaver, Writing Course Learning Requirements (2007).

B.C.I.T. has developed a guide for writing learning outcomes.

This website was developed for teachers in secondary school to help them revise existing objectives to learning outcomes. It contains a helpful list of "action verbs".

You may want to check out the suggestions on this website in the Program Learning Outcomes section. Many of the ideas listed there would be helpful at the course level as well.

Some Questions to Consider when Reviewing Course Learning Outcomes

Here are some questions to think about when developing or reviewing course learning outcomes.

  • Are you aware of the program outcomes and how this course contributes to them?
  • Do the learning outcomes identified for this course align with the expected learning in other courses in the program of study?
  • Are the course learning outcomes clearly stated?
  • Are the course learning outcomes clearly aligned to program outcomes? (eg: post secondary: vocational standards, essential employability skills, apprenticeship: apprenticeship standards). This is dependent upon the type of program in which you teach.
  • Is the performance described in the outcome significant? Will it really matter in the long run?
  • Can you envision how the learners will demonstrate their achievement of these learning outcomes?
  • Will these course learning outcomes guide the development of learning activities and the selection of concepts and skills to be learned?


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