How to Write Course Learning Outcomes

Course Learning Outcomes

Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) are central to your course’s curriculum. They articulate to students, faculty, and other stakeholders what students will achieve in each course and how their learning will be measured.

A Learning Outcome (LO) is a measurable, observable, and specific statement that clearly indicates what a student should know and be able to do as a result of learning.

Well-written learning outcomes involve the following parts:

  • Action verb
  • Subject content 
  • Level of achievement 
  • Condition of performance (if applicable)

learning outcome definition

For example:

  • CLO 1) List areas of consensus and disagreement among publications on global warming
  • CLO 2) Synthesize learning assignments with vocation-specific expectations using reflective enquiry

Steps to Writing Course Learning Outcomes for Your Course

Step 1

Select an action verb using Bloom’s Taxonomy:

Bloom's Taxonomy

Linking iPads and Bloom’s Taxonomy” by Danny Maas  See accessible version of this image.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it does provide examples of specific verbs that link to different levels of student learning. For a more detailed overview of Bloom’s Taxonomy, see Mohawk’s Learning Outcomes Pamphlet (PDF).

Make sure that you select a verb that you can observe and measure. There are many verbs that, while important, can’t be directly observed, and so are very difficult to assess in the classroom:

  • Understand
  • Know
  • Comprehend
  • Appreciate
  • Be familiar with
  • Study
  • Be aware
  • Become acquainted with
  • Gain knowledge of
  • Cover
  • Learn
  • Realize

Step 2

Next, select the subject content students are performing that task for. For example, in CLO 1 above, “areas of consensus and disagreement among publications on global warming” is the subject content: this is what the students are listing. Similarly, in the CLO “Develop a business plan for a small business”, the subject content is “a business plan”.

Step 3

Next, decide if your CLO requires either a level of achievement or a condition of performance.

Levels of Achievement

A level of achievement identifies how proficient students need to be in a task. For example, in a Composition course, you might say “Write a literature critique with no grammatical errors”. This tells students the level of achievement that’s expected of them.

Importantly, you don’t need a level of achievement for every CLO. You don’t need to say “effectively”, “accurately”, or “correctly” on a CLO, for example: these are all implied. We expect students to achieve all outcomes in all courses correctly and accurately. Levels of achievement are for specific cases.

Conditions of Performance

A condition of performance identifies if students are only performing this outcome in a specific context. For example, in a Welding course with a field placement, you might say “Demonstrate oxy-fuel-gas cutting techniques with limited supervision”. This tells students that they will be performing this task, but that they will be supervised while they do so.

Again, you don’t need a condition of performance for every CLO. Only include a condition of performance if that information clarifies the specific outcome students will achieve in the course.

Tips and Tricks

CLOs should be SMART outcomes. Use the following chart to see if your outcomes follow SMART principles:

SMART objectives

CLOs should have only one verb, and only one area of significant subject content. If your CLO includes multiple verbs, select the one that articulates the highest level of learning students will demonstrate in the course. If your CLO includes multiple topics, select the one that articulates the key outcome

CLOs should align with the other sections of your course outline. See more details about how to develop a course outline.

More information

Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management's Goals and Objectives", Management Review, Vol. 70, Issue 11, pp. 35-36. (Available through the library - login required for off-campus access.)