What will my students learn?

The first step in the course design process is to identify what you want your students to learn in your course. By defining learning outcomes for your course, you will be able to prioritize what assessments, learning activities and other content to include in your course while ensuring that your students will come away from the course with specific skills and competencies.

Think long-term

Five years from now, what would you like your students to remember and do from your course? These are the 5-8 high-level learning outcomes that you expect that all students should be able to achieve and which you will develop through the course’s learning activities and assessments. Keep in mind that you may break down these course-level learning outcomes into smaller unit-level outcomes; right now, we are trying to determine the main knowledge and skills that your students will gain.

Write learning outcomes with action verbs. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to identify appropriate action verbs for your learning outcomes. Bloom’s taxonomy is depicted as a pyramid of skills that are categorized in a hierarchical way, with lower-order skills building up to higher-order skills. This model helps you determine whether the skills you’ve identified suit your students’ baseline level of knowledge and skill. The model also helps you figure out how to move from a more basic skill, such as recalling or explaining, to an intermediate skill, such as applying, or an advanced skill, such as evaluating or creating new knowledge.

Make learning outcomes measurable. To determine if the outcome is measurable, ask how you will be able to observe that a student has met this outcome. This observation may help define what assessments you want to give students to measure their level of skill.

In fact, if you’re having trouble identifying what you want students to be able to do, another way to approach learning outcomes is to think about what assessments and activities you want to include in your course and ask what outcomes those assessments and activities address. Further, looking at possibilities for activities and assessments may give you more ideas about how to address different skills in your course.

Examples of Learning Outcomes

“By the end of this course, you will be able to…”

  • Critically evaluate other writers’ appraisals of jazz musicians and jazz recordings
  • Compare and contrast the differences between regular and irregular warfare
  • Explain why race is considered a social construct
  • Interpret the geologic history of a landscape by identifying the relevant tectonic, rock-forming and deformational processes

Once you’ve defined learning outcomes, develop assessments and learning activities to measure whether students have achieved them. Keep in mind that you may have smaller, unit-level learning outcomes that build up to the course-level outcomes, so you may have multiple units, assessments and course activities that contribute to the assessment of a course-level outcome. You can learn more about assessment planning in How will I know what my students have learned? and learning activities in What will we do in my course?


Creative Commons License

Flexible Teaching guides were developed by Duke Learning Innovation and adapted for NIU by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. They are shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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