Developing Course Level Outcomes

Course Level Intended Learning Outcomes

After the Program Outcomes have been established, the next step and in many ways, the first step in the actual assessment cycle is to identify the learning outcomes that should occur for each course. A well-formulated set of Course Learning Outcomes [CLO’s] will describe what a faculty member hopes to successfully accomplish in offering their particular course(s) to prospective students, or what specific skills, competencies, and knowledge the faculty member believes that students will have attained once the course is completed. The learning outcomes need to be concise descriptions of what learning is expected to take place by course completion.

When crafting course outcomes consider the following guidelines as you develop them either individually or as part of a multi-section group:

  • Limit the course-level expected learning outcomes to 4-7 statements for the entire course [more detailed outcomes can be developed for individual units, assignments, chapters, etc. if the instructor(s) wish (es)].
  • Focus on overarching knowledge and/or skills rather than small or trivial details.
  • Focus on knowledge and skills that are central to the course topic and/or discipline.
  • Create statements that have a student focus rather than an instructor centric approach (basic e.g., “upon completion of this course students will be able to list the names of the 50 states” versus “one objective of this course is to teach the names of the 50 states”).
  • Focus on the learning that results from the course rather than describing activities or lessons that are in the course.
  • Incorporate and/or reflect the institutional and departmental missions.
  • Include various ways for students to show success (outlining, describing, modeling, depicting, etc.) rather than using a single statement such as “at the end of the course, students will know _______ “as the stem for each expected outcome statement.

When developing learning outcomes, here are the core questions to ask yourself:

  • What do we want students in the course to learn?
  • What do we want the students to be able to do?
  • Are the outcomes observable, measurable and are they able to be performed by the students?


A Course Level Outcome [CLO] is a formal statement of what students are expected to learn in a course. Course learning outcome statements refer to specific knowledge, practical skills, areas of professional development, attitudes, higher-order thinking skills, etc. that faculty members expect students to develop, learn, or master during a course (Suskie, 2004). Course learning outcomes can also often be referred to as “learning outcomes”, “student learning outcomes”, or “learning outcome statements”.

Learning outcome statements on the course level describe:

  1. What faculty members want students to know at the end of the course AND
  2. What faculty members want students to be able to do at the end of the course?

Learning outcomes have three major characteristics

  1. They specify an action by the students/learners that is observable
  2. They specify an action by the students/learners that is measurable
  3. They specify an action that is done by the students/learners rather than the faculty members

Effectively developed expected learning outcome statements should possess all three of these characteristics. When this is done, the expected learning outcomes for a course are designed so that they can be assessed (Suskie, 2004). When stating expected learning outcomes, it is important to use verbs that describe exactly what the student(s)/learner(s) will be able to do upon completion of the course.

Relationship of Course Level Outcome to Program Level Outcome

The Course Learning Outcomes need to link to the Program Learning Outcomes.

Program Learning Outcomes

A Program Learning Outcome is broad in scope (Student achieves outcome as he/she completes program)

Course Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcome is narrow in scope (Student achieves outcome as he/she completes course)

When creating Course Learning Outcomes remember that the outcomes should clearly state what students will do or produce to determine and/or demonstrate their learning. Use the following learning outcomes formula:


For example, you can use the following template to help you write an appropriate course level learning outcome.

“Upon completion of this course students will be able to (knowledge, concept, rule or skill you expect them to acquire) by (how will they apply the knowledge or skill/how will you assess the learning).”

Characteristics of Effective Course Level Outcomes [CLO]:

Well written course outcomes……

  • Describe what you want your students to learn in your course.
  • Are aligned with program goals and objectives.
  • Tell how you will know an instructional goal has been achieved.
  • Use action words that specify definite, observable behaviors.
  • Are assessable through one or more indicators (papers, quizzes, projects, presentations, journals, portfolios, etc.)
  • Are realistic and achievable.
  • Use simple language

Examples of Effective Course Learning Objectives:

At the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Critically review the methodology of a research study published in a scholarly sociology journal.
  • Design a Web site using HTML and JavaScript.
  • Describe and present the contributions of women to American history.
  • Recognize the works of major Renaissance artists.
  • Facilitate a group to achieve agreed-upon goals.
  • Determine and apply the appropriate statistical procedures to analyze the results of simple experiments.
  • Develop an individual learning plan for a child with a learning disability.
  • Produce a strategic plan for a small manufacturing business.
  • Analyze a character’s motivation and portray that character before an audience.
  • Differentiate among five major approaches to literary analysis
  • List the major ethical issues one must consider when planning a human-subjects study.
  • Locate and critically evaluate information on current political issues on the Web.
  • List and describe the functions of the major components of the human nervous system.
  • Correctly classify rock samples found in...
  • Conduct a systems analysis of a group interaction.
  • Demonstrate active listening skills when interviewing clients.
  • Apply social psychological principles to suggest solutions to contemporary social problems.

A more detailed model for stating learning objectives requires that objectives have three parts: a condition, an observable behavior, and a standard. The table below provides three examples.

Condition Observable Behavior Standard

1. Given a list of drugs

the student will be able to classify each item as amphetamine or barbiturate

with at least 70% accuracy.

2. Immediately following a fifteen-minute discussion on a topic

the student will be able to summarize in writing the major issues being discussed

mentioning at least three of the five major topics.

3. Given an algebraic equation with one unknown

the student will be able to correctly solve a simple linear equation

within a period of five minutes.

The following examples describe a CLO that is not measurable as written, an explanation for why the CLO is not considered measurable, and a suggested edit that improves the CLO.

Original CLO:

Explore in depth the literature on an aspect of teaching strategies.

Evaluation of language used in this CLO:

Exploration is not a measurable activity but the quality of the product of exploration would be measurable with a suitable rubric.

Improved CLO:

Upon completion of this course the students will be able to write a paper based on an in-depth exploration of the literature on an aspect of teaching strategies.

Sample from Anywhere University

HIST 101 History of Civilization Cultural Traditions

This course is intended to survey the development of civilization from ancient times to 1000 AD. Cultures studied include Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, Greece, Rome, and ending with the fall of Rome and the rise of Christianity.

Learning outcomes:

After completing this course, students should be able to:

  • Analyze relevant causes and effects through the media of written essays and oral analysis.
  • Describe and explain the major accomplishments of the early bronze age civilizations – such as their political structures; economic and commercial systems; social stratification; gender relations; religious and philosophical beliefs; scientific and technological innovations; military and diplomatic systems; plastic and literary artistic achievements
  • Identify the major causes leading to the decline or collapse of early bronze age civilizations
  • Compare the historical conditions and experiences of different human communities during the era of the Bronze Age.
  • Describe and explain the global historical developments at the time of the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age.
  • Describe and explain the rise and development of the world’s classical civilizations – such as Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Chinese, and Indian.

In addition to discipline-specific objectives, some learning objectives are taught, practiced, and reinforced throughout much of the curriculum. When planning your course, consider adding one or more of these important objectives:

  • Communication skills, including oral (speaking and listening) and written (writing and reading) skills.
  • Interpersonal skills, including the ability to lead and to work cooperatively with others.
  • Computational skills, including applications of statistics.
  • Problem-solving skills in a variety of contexts.
  • Critical thinking skills in a variety of contexts.
  • Information competency skills: the ability to find, evaluate, use, and communicate information in all its various formats. Information competency, broadly defined, includes computer literacy, library literacy, media literacy, technological literacy, ethics, critical thinking, and communication skills. Students should be aware of issues like access and privacy, intellectual property, copyright and fair use, and the power and influence of information, including information provided in non-print media. They should be able to create information and communicate it effectively
  • Multicultural awareness, including respect for people unlike yourself and the ability to take perspectives of and to interact positively with groups other than your own.
  • Intellectual flexibility, an openness to new ideas and an ability to adapt to a changing environment.
  • Understanding of scientific methods, including distinguishing between empirical evidence and unsubstantiated claims.
  • Ethics, including an awareness of personal and others’ values and how they relate to ethical decision-making.
  • “Conscientiousness, personal responsibility, and dependability”

What are we trying to accomplish?

Research tells us that an organization can greatly increase its productivity by being very specific about the goals it is trying to achieve. For a variety of reasons, we as higher education professionals today are being asked to substantially improve our productivity to improve the quality of our results, and our students' level of development.

One of the most helpful ways we can improve our students' learning is to clarify our intentions as faculty and staff. Currently, many departments and faculty members do not clearly specify their intended outcomes be they at the program or course level. We aim at whatever we think will be most useful to the students we serve, but in reality we may be pulling our students in different directions. Lacking clear guidance, students may have to guess at what they should learn.

An Introspection - Examine Your Own Course Learning Outcomes [CLO]

1. If you have written statements of broad course goals, take a look at them. If you do not have a written list of course goals, reflect on your course and list the four to six most important student outcomes you want your course to produce.

2. Look over your list and check the one most important student outcome. If you could only achieve one outcome, which one would it be?

3. Look for your outcome on the list of key competencies or outcomes society is asking us to produce (see below). Is it there? If not, is the reason a compelling one?

4. Check each of your other "most important" outcomes against the list of outcomes. How many are on the list of key competencies?

5. Take stock. What can you learn from this exercise about what you are trying to accomplish as a teacher? How clear and how important are your statements of outcomes for your use and for your students'? Are they very specifically worded to avoid misunderstanding? Are they supporting important needs on the part of the students?

Society's Key Competencies

Leaders in business, government, and education have been urging us to focus on producing a number of specific student-development outcomes they believe are essential for the democratic and economic future of our society. Hence it is no surprise to see those elements embedded within most of the Drexel Student Learning Priorities [DSLP’s].

Here is a list of those key outcomes taken from Redesigning Higher Education

  • Conscientiousness, personal responsibility, and dependability [DSLP 11]
  • The ability to act in a principled, ethical fashion [DSLP 3]
  • Skill in oral and written communication [DSLP 1]
  • Interpersonal and team skills [DSLP 8]
  • Skill in critical thinking and in solving complex problems [DSLP 2]
  • Respect for people different from oneself [DSLP 7]
  • The ability to adapt to change
  • The ability and desire for life-long learning

Conditions Necessary for Development of the Key Competencies

These are the conditions in a college or university which research has shown foster the development of these abilities.

  1. High-level of intellectual challenge
  2. A supportive environment
  3. Active involvement
  4. High expectations
  5. Clearly defined outcomes and frequent assessment with prompt feedback

How do you determine what you're asking your students to do intellectually?

The most common formal method used by teachers to set the level of intellectual responses required by their students on questions asked in class, on assessments, and in assignments is the Taxonomy of Education Objectives mentioned on this website. Here is an exercise that you can do with the material presented on those pages.

  • Take a sample of the tests you've given to your students recently and perform a simple item analysis on them. Rate each item as to its level in the Taxonomy.
  • Determine the percentage of all items in the sample or on one test that are at each level.
  • Reflect on the level of intellectual challenge presented on your tests. Expectations for assessment affect how students study. How does the level of challenge posed by your tests affect your students' quality of learning effort outside the classroom? Is it consistent with our institutional and national effort to significantly raise our standards for college students?

Write Your Course Outcomes!

One of the first steps you take in identifying the expected learning outcomes for your course is identifying the purpose of teaching the course. By clarifying and specifying the purpose of the course, you will be able to discover the main topics or themes related to students’ learning. Once discovered, these themes will help you to outline the expected learning outcomes for the course. Ask yourself:

  • What role does this course play within the major?
  • How is the course unique or different from other courses?
  • Why should/do students take this course? What essential knowledge or skills should they gain from this experience?
  • What knowledge or skills from this course will students need to have mastered to perform well in future classes or jobs?
  • Why is this course important for students to take?


Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, Linda Suskie, Anker Publishing, 2004

Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, Linda Suskie, Anker Publishing, 2004

Upcraft, M. L. Gardner, J. N. & Associates. The freshman year experience: Helping students survive and succeed in college. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers,

A Report Submitted to Commission on Learning Resources and Instructional Technology Work Group on Information Competence CLRIT Task 6.1; Susan C. Curzon, Chair, December 1995

Tools and Resources to Increase Student Learning; Lion F. Gardiner, Department of Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, February 1997; Vol.6 No.2

Redesigning Higher Education, p.7; The George Washington University, sponsored by The New Jersey Institute for Collegiate Teaching and Learning

Redesigning Higher Education, p.23; The George Washington University, sponsored by The New Jersey Institute for Collegiate Teaching and Learning