2.4 Learning outcomes

A fundamental part of creating an online course is describing to the learner what they can expect to achieve through taking and completing the course. Learning outcomes tell the learner what they are going to learn about and the context in which they will be learning. They can be seen as objectives which, overall, the learner can hope to meet when the course is complete, helping them to understand where the course will take them as they study.

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Figure 3

Writing learning outcomes for a course can be tricky to get right because describing the kind of learning that is going to be achieved through selection of the correct verbs is not always straightforward. A model that is often referred to in education is called Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, more often referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy. While the roots of the model are within complex psychological concepts, it has been adapted and simplified since its conception in 1956 to become widely used by instructional designers.

In its basic form, the taxonomy describes how a learner first achieves a basic level of knowledge of a subject and builds the complexity of their knowledge in a systematic and structured way. Bloom describes five levels of cognitive learning: knowledge, comprehension, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

These terms, or verbs that are variants of them, can often be found within learning outcomes. For example, a learning outcomes page within a course that looks at an introduction to bicycle maintenance may read as follows:

Following completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • describe the different types of tyres that are commonly found on bikes
  • consider the conditions that may lead to a puncture occurring
  • understand why a puncture on a bicycle should be fixed
  • list the basic tools required to fix a puncture
  • develop skills required to fix a punctured bicycle tyre.

Choosing the correct wording for your course depends on the level at which you are teaching. For example, a course aimed at learners who are completely new to a particular subject will use verbs based around the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy in order to help the learners gain a solid understanding of the basic principles of the subject e.g. ‘List the basic tools required to fix a puncture’.

A postgraduate course looking at a similar subject will use wording based around the higher end of the taxonomy e.g. ‘Analyse the structure of materials used within the construction of a pneumatic tyre’.

Including learning outcomes at the start of your course will not only set the tone for the learner, it will also help with search engine optimisation (web discoverability of your course), discussed in more detail in Session 10. The number of learning outcomes relates to the length of your course; very short courses (1–2 hours for example) may only have two or three learning outcomes, whereas a course of 25 hours may have four or five.

2.3.2 Gathering resources – human or online

2.5 Course delivery approach