Program and course learning outcomes are a central aspect of the University's contract with students because they specify expectations about what students will know and be able to do on the successful completion of a program or course.
The very specific focus on student achievement (rather than generalised descriptions of teaching activity or learning experiences) means that learning outcomes are structured and expressed in a particular format.
The following information advises on the factors influencing both program and course learning outcomes and sets out the widely accepted approach for writing them.
Outcomes or objectives
The shift in terminology from 'objectives' to 'outcomes' is indicative of a broader movement in educational practice which emphasises 'outputs' (quantitative) and 'outcomes' (qualitative) over 'inputs' (quantitative).
Although inputs such as ATAR scores, funding, staff/student ratios, and teaching activity are important quality indicators in an educational context, a greater emphasis is now being placed on the results of those inputs including retention and graduation rates, graduate attributes, and rates of employment and further study.
In line with this there has been a shift in terminology within the documentation of programs and courses from learning objectives (the intentions of teaching) to learning outcomes (the effects of teaching). That is, the focus has shifted from what the teacher does, to what the learner is expected to demonstrate, on the evidence of learning rather than the intentions of teaching (that may or may not lead to learning).
Focusing learning outcomes on student achievement does not mean other kinds of outcomes are unimportant. Teacher intentions and aspirations, or experiences that students can expect to encounter, or a list of topics covered (i.e. syllabus) are valuable and should be included in other aspects of the program and course documentation provided to students.
Programs and their courses
Program learning outcomes are the blueprint for the design and development of an award through its component courses. They are developed from the complex interaction of a range of factors including university priorities, demands of the discipline, requirements of quality and accrediting agencies, and expectations of stakeholders.
Since program learning outcomes can only be achieved and demonstrated through component courses, course learning outcomes and their assessment are integrally related to program learning outcomes. See Figure 1 below.
Program learning outcomes are developed over the extent of the program, with the complexity of course learning outcomes and related assessment increasing incrementally throughout from year to year.
Meeting TEQSA requirements
All University programs must meet the Australian Government requirements as identified in the TEQSA Threshold Standards, which describe the broad parameters for quality program design at various qualification levels as outlined in the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF).
Program learning outcomes include knowledge, skills, and the application of that knowledge and skills.
AQF specification for the Bachelor Degree
This Specification informs the design and accreditation of Bachelor Degree qualifications.
The principal users of the AQF Qualification Type Specifications are the accrediting authorities in each education and training sector which are responsible for the accreditation of AQF qualifications and the developers of AQF qualifications in each education and training sector.
The other users of the Specifications are the authorised issuing organisations, industry and professional bodies, licensing and regulatory bodies, students, graduates and employers.
The purpose of the Bachelor Degree qualification type is to qualify individuals who apply a broad and coherent body of knowledge in a range of contexts to undertake professional work and as a pathway for further learning.
Bachelor Degree qualifications are located at level 7 of the Australian Qualifications Framework.
Bachelor Degree qualifications must be designed and accredited to enable graduates to demonstrate the learning outcomes expressed as knowledge, skills and the application of knowledge and skills specified in the level 7 criteria and the Bachelor Degree descriptor.
AQF level 7 criteria Summary Graduates at this level will have broad and coherent knowledge and skills for professional work
and/or further learning
Knowledge Graduates at this level will have broad and coherent theoretical and technical knowledge with depth in one or
more disciplines or areas of practice
Skills Graduates at this level will have well-developed cognitive, technical and communication skills to select
and apply methods and technologies to:
• analyse and evaluate information to complete a range of activities
• analyse, generate and transmit solutions to unpredictable and sometimes complex problems
• transmit knowledge, skills and ideas to others
Application of knowledge and skills Graduates at this level will apply knowledge and skills to demonstrate autonomy, well-developed judgement
• in contexts that require self-directed work and learning
• within broad parameters to provide specialist advice and functions
For more detailed information refer to the AQF website and the 'AQF Second Edition' download.
Meeting discipline standards
Programs are expected to meet the threshold learning outcomes for their disciplines which are being progressively developed nationally. For further information refer to the discipline standards in Australia information.
Program learning outcomes
Program learning outcomes identify the minimum level that graduates must achieve to be successful in a program.
Course learning outcomes
Course learning outcomes identify the minimum level that students must achieve to be successful in a course.
Writing learning outcomes
A guide and examples on how to write learning outcomes.