Learning Outcomes: Definition, Benefits, Best Practices

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Learning outcomes describe the skills, knowledge, and attitudes students should acquire by the end of a course. The purpose of learning outcomes is to provide a clear focus for curriculum development and instruction. Learning outcomes are specific and measurable. They give students an understanding of what they should know and be able to do by the end of their course or program.

Learning Outcomes

What are learning outcomes?

Learning outcomes result from formal and informal learning experiences, whether in school or work. They tell us what a person has learned and how well they can apply it. In addition, learning outcomes are usually written or stated so that they can be measured objectively using standardized tests, making it easy for organizations to compare their employees' skills against those of other organizations or individuals.

Intellectual skills

The ability to think and reason is essential to being a good student. The ability to think and the reason is also an intellectual or cognitive skill. There are four categories of intellectual skills:

Cognitive skills

These are the mental processes involved in problem-solving, decision-making, and critical thinking. These allow you to make sense of the information you've received from your environment. They include inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning, research skills, critical analysis and synthesis (the ability to analyze different perspectives), synthesis (combining ideas into new forms), hypothesis-testing abilities, problem-solving abilities; imagination; curiosity; memory, etcetera:

Verbal information

It refers to using spoken or written words effectively while learning new material or communicating with others verbally (speaking). It involves reading comprehension (the ability to understand what you read), listening comprehension (the ability to understand what others say), speaking fluency (how well one speaks without hesitations), etcetera.

Visual information

It refers to using images, graphics, and pictures effectively while learning new material or communicating with others visually. It involves reading comprehension (the ability to understand what you read), listening comprehension (the ability to understand what others say), speaking fluency (how well one speaks without hesitations), etcetera.

Motor skills

These skills are the abilities that allow us to move our bodies and other objects. Motor skills include hand-eye coordination, strength, balance, flexibility, agility, and gross motor skills (the ability to move large joints).


Attitude is a learned response. Attitudes are influenced by culture, family, friends, social media, and the media. So, students can be taught to have a positive attitude, or they can be taught to have a negative attitude. Teachers can influence students' attitudes.

Cognitive strategies

These are mental processes that help us to solve problems. Hence, thinking critically is important in many academic subjects, such as math and science. Critical thinking involves analyzing information and evaluating it. For example, when you read a textbook chapter on how the digestive system works, you are analyzing the information presented and deciding whether it makes sense to you or not. If it does not make sense, you may want to look up more information before proceeding with your research and analysis.

Learning Outcomes Vs. Learning Objectives

Knowing the difference between learning outcomes and objectives is essential when deciding on your curriculum.

  • Learning outcomes are more specific than their counterpart, learning objectives. In other words: if you say, "I want students to be able to do X," that's a learning objective. If you say, "I want students to be able to do X after completing this course," that's a learning outcome.
  • The goal of your lesson should always be focused on student achievement of some kind (for example, knowledge or skills). However, it should not be focused on teacher achievement—in other words, ensuring everything is taught correctly so that teachers feel good about themselves at the end of class (called "teacher validation").

The perspective of the Teacher Vs. Student

To a teacher, an Outcome is the knowledge and skills a student should acquire after completing an activity.

For example:

A student who has learned how to construct a balanced chemical equation with metals and nonmetals can then use this knowledge to understand why adding hydrochloric acid to aluminum creates hydrogen gas. In other words, they will have gained knowledge about chemical reactions.

Purpose Vs. Outcome

  • Learning purposes are what you want the student to know, do, or feel after completing the course.
  • Learning outcomes are what the student can do in the real world after completing the course.

Future Vs. Past

We want to ensure that you know the difference between learning objectives and outcomes. In other words, learning objectives are about what the student will know, understand and be able to do after completing the course. This is a past-focused statement.

Learning outcomes are about what the student will know, understand and be able to do after completing the course. They're future-focused statements.

Intended Outcome Vs. Observed Outcome

The Intended Outcome is what you want to happen. The Observed Outcome is what happens. An excellent example of this is if I want my students to write down their names and then give me their names for attendance. If I wanted them to do this as a class, then at the end, I would have observed that they all had their names written down - but did not do so individually as I'd intended.

Examples of Learning Objectives and Learning Outcomes

Learning objectives describe the desired outcome of learning. The output of a learning experience is what you hope to achieve from it, so your learner must achieve these outcomes. This can often be done by breaking down a skill into smaller parts and using these as targets for each lesson. For example, if you want your learners to build their vocabulary in English, then one objective could be: "By the end of this course, I will know how to use more words than before."

Another example would be setting up exercises designed to increase knowledge or skills - like reading comprehension exercises which test whether learners can read passages at different levels. By testing on paper-based assessments or online tests (such as those provided by iCivics), you can see how well learners are doing within each lesson and adjust accordingly if necessary.

Learning Outcomes examples

Learning outcomes are the goals and objectives you hope to achieve within a course. They're generally tied to specific learning outcomes or "what students should know and be able to do." For example, let's say you were teaching an introductory biology class on evolution. You could write out your learning outcomes as follows:

  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of Charles Darwin's theories of evolution and natural selection.
  • They will be able to explain how evolution occurs over time in different organisms.
  • Students will be able to identify examples of evolution in nature. Such as bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics through natural selection or species adapting for survival (e.g., polar bears growing fur instead of just shedding it). and cite evidence supporting these observations as proof that they've learned this knowledge correctly.

How to write Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are statements of what students can expect from a course. They describe the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes students should gain from their experience in a course.

The learning outcomes for a course should be:

  • specific: they provide clear guidelines for success;
  • measurable: they allow students to assess whether or not they have met these objectives; and
  • achievable: if everyone can't achieve them, then it's likely that the learning outcomes are too high level.


We hope you've learned much about learning outcomes and how they can help your students. While there are no set rules on learning outcomes, they have remained a cornerstone of classroom settings for decades, as educators place value on the education process as much as the knowledge gained from it. Rather than throwing them out, we can embrace this tradition by revisiting our approach and drawing attention to their importance in modern learning environments.

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