Course Learning Outcomes

Course learning outcomes identify the minimum level that students must achieve to be successful in a course.

In particular, they frame what will be learned and assessed and the nature of learning activity experienced within the course.

  • Features of course learning outcomes

    Constructive alignment (CA) (Biggs & Tang, 2007) is a design for teaching what it is intended students should learn, and how they should express their learning, and is clearly stated before teaching takes place. Teaching is then designed to engage students in learning activities that optimise their chances of achieving those outcomes, and assessment tasks are designed to enable clear judgments as to how well those outcomes have been attained. 

    The operational framework can be simplified to the following: 

    1. Describe the intended learning outcomes for the program or course, using one verb (or at most two) for each outcome. This defines what students will know and be able to do as a result of the course.
    2. Create a learning environment using teaching and learning activities that require students to engage each verb. This refers to the activities and experiences that support students in succeeding in their assessments. 
    3. Use assesment tasks that also contain that verb, thus enabling one with help of predetermined using rubrics to judge how well students' performances meet the criteria. How students demonstarted that they have acquired the desired learning outcomes. 

    Course learning outcomes are shaped by the:

    • role the course plays in the developmental learning experiences within the program through specific knowledge, skills and the application of knowledge and skills
    • contribution the course makes to program learning outcomes, including accreditation requirements, graduate attributes, TEQSA requirements, threshold learning outcomes, etc.
    • nature of the assessment tasks and the teaching and learning activities and experiences that support students in succeeding in the assessment.

    Course learning outcomes have particular characteristics, they:

    • define the scope of the course
    • use language that is comprehensible to students and prospective students before they undertake the course
    • identify what 'typical' students will know and be able to do on successful completion of the course
    • are measurable, realistic and achievable within the context and timeframe
    • are inextricably linked to the learning outcomes of programs
    • are demonstrated through assessment
    • are supported through teaching and learning activity.
  • Integrity of programs through constituent courses

    Although programs provide the broad conceptual framework of learning and teaching, programs are only experienced by both staff and students through their constituent courses. Furthermore, programs are not aggregations of loosely linked courses; rather courses are the realisation of programs.

    For students to experience programs that are coherent, rigorous and developmentally sound, courses need to be specifically crafted to progressively introduce discipline content and skills of developing complexity, increasing intellectual demands and greater academic independence.

    A constituent course can only be understood in the context of its associated courses and, in particular, its place in the developmental sequence of learning which results in the achievement of program learning outcomes.

    Course learning outcomes, therefore, cannot be developed in isolation from other courses or from the overall program. This requires mapping the various components of the curriculum and their developmental sequences across the program.

  • Minimum standards

    The course learning outcomes identify the minimum achievement required for success in the course.

    Assessment rubrics make provision for a range of attainment but pass levels should be tied to the statements.

    The sum of the course learning outcomes of constituent courses should be equal to the program learning outcomes.

    In determining the minimum level of achievement required for a course, consideration should be given to the attainment level of students entering the course as well as the level of assumed knowledge required for subsequent courses.

    This interlocking set of outcomes provides a progressive and systematic approach to the discipline and enhances student learning.

  • Key questions

    When writing course learning outcomes you might find it useful to keep in mind the following key questions:

    • Does this course have a particular function within the major (eg core, Level I, capstone) and, if so, what expectations/constraints/opportunities does this function bring with it?
    • What is the main contribution this course makes to the major?
    • Do the course learning outcomes focus on what the student will know or do on the successful completion of the course?
    • Do the course learning outcomes accurately represent your perspective of this course?
    • Are the emphases indicated in the course learning outcomes consistent with the emphases experienced by students in the course through lectures, workshops, clinical work, etc.?
    • Do the course learning outcomes represent the overall emphases of the course as identified in the assessment?
    • Do the course learning outcomes identify the minimum requirements to pass the course?
    • How does this course contribute to the overall program learning outcomes?
    • Where does this course fit in the learning sequence of content, skills and the application of the content and skills across the program?
    • Is the course a final year/capstone that links to program learning outcomes?
    • What academic content and skills are introduced?
    • What academic skills and content are reinforced?
    • What other course outcomes impact on this course?
    • What other courses are impacted by the outcomes of this course?
    • Does the course need to demonstrate achievement of skills and content for accreditation/registration purposes?
    • Do the course learning outcomes make reference to the assessment and the teaching and learning processes?
    • Do the course learning outcomes make reference to a broad range of student outcomes beyond content, as indicted in the Graduate Attributes?
    • Are the course learning outcomes consistent with the requirements of the Australian Qualifications Framework?
    • Are the course learning outcomes expressed in terms of:
      • stem – in future tense: 'On the completion of this course students will be able to: ....'
      • active verb – indicating the nature of the student activity—specifically what you want them to know, consider or do—typically expressed in verbs such as 'understand', 'synthesise', 'write', 'debate' and 'differentiate'.
      • focus – indicating the process, product or outcome of the action such as 'theories', research plan' and 'principles of ethical research'
      • condition – (optional) indicating any conditions that may apply such as '...using the appropriate referencing system', ' identified in ..', and ...relevant to...'