What are Learning Outcomes

The most commonly used and perhaps parsimonious definition of “learning outcomes” proposes that they are “…what a student is expected to be able to DO as a result of a learning activity.”

To appreciate this definition of learning outcomes, a consideration of the meaning of the words and phrases in the definition may be helpful, since the simplicity of the definition may underestimate its exactness.

  • DO. The key word in the definition of learning outcomes is the word, “Do.” The word suggests what skill, knowledge or behavior a student is able to demonstrate as a consequence of a learning activity. What is important is that there must be a doing in the do of a learning outcome. Examples of words that suggest such a doing are:

    Words which suggest actions are examples of doing in “Do,” such as:

    Define Discuss Apply Diagram Express
    Describe Explain Build Differentiate Compose
    Identify Give Examples Compute Illustrate Generate
    Label Explain Build Prioritize Arrange
    List Summarize     Implement Compare Plan
    Tell Estimate Assess Contrast Write

    Words which are less suggestive of actions and tend to result in weaker, less measureable learning outcomes are:

    Know      Understand      Comprehend      Feel      Learn      Appreciate


  • Learning activity. For most classroom situations, learning activities are fairly easy to identify, since instruction and discussion are the common currency of course instruction. For Campus Life the history of learning activities may not be as profoundly pronounced, but a careful inspection of current activities and programs suggests that a broad range of contacts with students may be identified as learning activities. Learning activities can be found in such areas as, all of which are part of Campus Life’s programs:

    Advisement      Counseling      Leadership      Service      Planning      Workshops

    In addition to the learning activities for students who participate in programs, learning outcomes and learning activities are part of the experience students have when employed by Campus Life. Each student-employee has an opportunity to receive training and supervision that will result in an acquired skill or knowledge that adds to the overall development of the student’s experience at the university.

  • Expected to be able to DO. The inclusion of expected in the definition of a learning outcome suggests intentional learning rather than coincidental, incidental or accidental. When members of Campus Life identify intentional learning outcomes, they develop learning activities as the result of desired result, rather than having lots of activities and hope they result in learning. Activities are “expected” to result in specific learning outcomes.
  • A student. Statements of learning outcomes include all the students with whom Campus Life may have contact. Even the briefest encounter may result in learning. However, in some specific instances, the contact may be so brief and the information so limited, that the identification of a learning outcome and its assessment may be a superficial and futile exercise. In those instances, Campus Life departments will focus on manageable, measurable learning outcomes.


Examples of Possible Learning Outcomes and Assessment Measures

1. Upon completion of an integrity workshop, students are able to identify the importance of integrity, i.e., congruence between their stated values and their behaviors, in their personal lives.

  • Activity: Integrity workshop
  • Do: Identify the importance of integrity in their personal lives
  • Potential Measures:
    • Essay
    • Focus group
    • Journal for specified period
    • Interview and instructor scored rubric

2. After visiting with a department advisor, a student will be able to independently prepare a class schedule that progresses the student toward graduation.

  • Activity: Advising appointment
  • Do: Independently create a class schedule
  • Potential Measures:
    • Pre-registration class schedule created by student
    • Survey of student’s perceived confidence to complete schedule

3. As a result of participation on an planning committee, a student will be able to outline the steps necessary to receive Campus Life approval to conduct activity.

  • Activity: Planning committee
  • Do: Outline steps to receive approval for an activity
  • Potential Measures:
    • Supervisor/Committee-chair rubric
    • Peer feedback
    • Interview
    • Questionnaire

4. Students who participate in a conflict resolution meeting will report a greater understanding of the need to understand the perspective of both sides of a disagreement.

  • Activity: Participation in a conflict resolution meeting
  • Do: Report greater understanding of perspectives
  • Potential Measures:
    • Mediator completed rubric
    • Post mediation survey
    • Interview

5. Students with disabilities who register with the disability services office and have contact with the services each semester of enrollment will, upon graduation, be able to describe their functional limitations and the types of accommodations that are appropriate in a work environment.

  • Activity: Registration and contact with disability services
  • Do: Describe functional limitations and appropriate accommodations
  • Potential Measures:
    • Longitudinal scoring rubric with pre-assessment at intake and post- assessment at graduation.
    • Case notes
    • Semester/term independent planning sheets for accommodations