Learning Outcomes

Outcomes-based education is learner-centred. Curriculum design based on outcomes allows instructors to measure what students are able to do at the end of the course. The three main concerns of outcomes-based education are alignment, threading, and laddering of the curriculum elements (outcomes, assessment, skills, concepts/issues, learning activities).

Alignment refers to the process of ensuring that each element of your curriculum fits together (e.g. a course outcome states that a student will be able to critically assess the composition of a song, and the assessment is an oral presentation to the class on the lyrical structure).

Misalignment occurs when curriculum elements do not match (e.g. a course outcome states that a student will be able to critically assess the composition of a song but the assessment is a fill-in-the blank test).

Laddering, also called leveling, refers to the progressive complexity of the curriculum elements as students move through the program (e.g. a 4th year course will have a higher degree of complexity than a 1st year course, and the curriculum elements should step-up each year).

Threading refers to core curriculum elements being woven throughout several courses (e.g. information fluency might be threaded through all 1st year courses in a program; it would then be laddered up for 2nd year and threaded through 2nd year courses as well).

Outcomes-based Curriculum Design

The outcomes-based design process begins at the end with the intended outcomes and works backwards towards the learning activities. This process is also called Backwards Design.

Learning Outcomes Backwards Design Diagram Steihl, R. & Lewchuck, L. (2008). The Outcomes Primer: reconstructing the college curriculum. Covallis, Oregon: The Learning Organization.

Outcomes versus Objectives

Typically in Canada, objectives are what the instructor will do or teach and outcomes are what the student will be able to do at the end of the course. In American literature the term objective is often used to indicate a student learning outcome.

At RDC, the preferred terms are program learning outcomes and course learning outcomes. Learning outcomes tie to both the Academic Plan and Strategic Plan because they are learner-centred.


Program Outcomes must align to the program’s Graduate Profile and RDC Board Ends. Course Outcomes must align to the Program Outcomes. They must also align to the learning activities that take place inside and outside of class, to the skills students will have, and to the assessments used to measure each outcome.

Writing Learning Outcomes

Outcomes add clarity to your class, and as instructor you will have greater insight into what your class is accomplishing. Outcomes are clear statements of what students will be able to do outside the classroom as a result of what they have learned in the course.

Outcomes are written using measurable verbs which indicate exactly what the student will be able to do and what learning will have occurred in your class. The students should be able to read and comprehend your outcomes and apply each one to their learning.

Outcomes are written using measurable verbs first categorized by Benjamin Bloom into three domains: Cognitive, Psychomotor, and Affective.

The following guides developed by the CTL can help you select suitable verbs for your outcomes:

These verbs will help you write Outcomes that can be assessed.

Learning outcomes can be preceded by using a standard phrase:
“By the end of this course, students will be able to:”
Further clarification of the outcome can be indicated by the phrase, “in order to.”

Here is an example:
By the end of this course, students will be able to:
—identify key figures in European history.
—use information and technology effectively in order to communicate ideas.

Learning Activities & Assessment

Learning activities help students prepare for the assessments that will measure whether or not they have attained the course outcomes. There can be overlap between learning activities and assessments.

For example, a draft essay can be a learning activity but it can also count towards the final grade as an assessment. The formative feedback given to the student in the draft essay would be used for the summative assessment of the final essay.

Learning Outcomes Checklist

Learning Outcomes Checklist