Why learning outcomes are critical for engaging learners (and how to write them)


ave you ever written a learning outcome before? If you’ve designed a learning experience before, be it a face-to-face workshop, an eLearning course or even just a quick quiz, you may have given it a go. If you found it hard to know what to write for your outcomes, or even just wondered what the point of it all was, then you’ve come to the right blog.

In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know about learning outcomes, including how to use them, why you should use them, and how to write them effectively.

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What are learning outcomes?

Learning outcomes describe the knowledge, skills or abilities a learner should acquire from completing a learning experience. Learning outcomes should contain an action verb (e.g. ‘describe’ or ‘analyse’) that is used to measure the learner’s level of  competency through assessment. Learning outcomes are an important tool for trainers, learning designers and teachers around the world.

What are action verbs?

Action verbs are “doing” words. They are a single word that describes an action for the learner to be able to do. 

The best tool to use when choosing action words for learning outcomes is Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a framework for categorising different kinds of actions according to the type of cognition they require. In other words, each category requires a different kind of thinking, and thus each category is associated with different action words. Being able to select action words from a wide range of categories indicates that your learning experience engages multiple different kinds of thinking.

How to write learning outcomes.

What is the purpose of learning outcomes?

Learning outcomes have two important functions.

  1.  Learning outcomes are used by the learning experience creator to guide the design of the learning experience. Learning outcomes should be used during every step of the creation process to ensure that all the content and activities work to meet the learning outcomes.
  1. When shared with the learners at the beginning of the learning experience, learning outcomes allow learners to understand the purpose of the learning and how it might fit into a broader curriculum of learning.

Why are learning outcomes so important?

Writing learning outcomes is one of the first and most important steps in creating a learning experience, whether it is a face-to-face workshop, online eLearning course or any other format. In fact, learning outcomes should be written directly after creating a learning persona, so that the outcomes can be effectively matched to the needs of the learners.

When learning outcomes are written early in the design process as they serve as a critical litmus test for every following stage, for example,

  • During the content gathering stage, all content should be held against the learning outcomes to determine if the content effectively advances the learner towards achieving the outcomes.
  • During the sequence and activity design stage, learning outcomes can be used to choose activities that employ the outcome action verbs, such as activities that involve categorising or identifying.
  • During the assessment design stage, all questions should be designed to directly assess the learner’s achievement of the learning outcomes, thereby avoiding questions that test irrelevant details from the course.

When learning outcomes are used consistently and effectively throughout the design and creation of a learning experience, the result is an experience that is far more engaging for learners. This is because:

  • The learning content will be more focused, relevant and concise.
  • The activities assist the learner to actively practise the learning.
  • The assessment will require the learner to demonstrate useful and applicable knowledge or skills.

When learners feel that a learning experience is relevant and beneficial to their needs, they will be more engaged with the learning and are more likely to apply and retain what they have learned.

How to write learning outcomes

There are just four steps you need to write expert learning outcomes.

  1. Frame your learning outcomes by beginning with the phrase “By the end of this learning experience, the learner will be able to…”
  2. Select an action verb using Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  3. Conclude with a statement of the desired knowledge or skills.
  4. Review and revise your learning outcome until it is as accurate and specific as possible.

It is also important to review your final set of learning outcomes in comparison to one another. Without this step, you may find yourself repeating the same action verbs multiple times, or choosing action verbs all from the same category of Bloom’s Taxonomy. If this is the case, it may be an indication that your learning experience is heavily weighted towards memorising content and not towards applying the knowledge, or situating it in context. This may be desirable if the course is one part of a blended learning approach, or one part of a suite of courses, but if it is a stand-alone course, it may be worth reviewing your content.

Creating precise learning outcomes takes time and practice. The effort is well worth it however, as the more accurate and precise the learning outcomes are, the more likely your learning experience will hit the mark and give the learner what they need to succeed in their job.

To assist eLearning creators to write expert-level learning outcomes, HowToo has integrated Bloom’s Taxonomy into the course creation process. Unlike other authoring tools, HowToo includes learning outcomes written by experienced learning designers. Every outcome is matched with templates that include pre-built sequences and activities that are effective in fulfilling the learning outcomes, making HowToo the only tool that actively assists users to become better creators of learning experiences. 

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Jul 13, 2021
Learning Design

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