5 Steps For Writing Learning Outcomes That Work

5 Steps For Writing Learning Outcomes That Work
Summary: In this article, I share with you my 5 step approach to writing learning outcomes that can produce measurable results.

Writing Learning Outcomes That Work In Only 5 Steps

Given the growing need to be able to determine training’s return on investment, it seems clear that being able to write achievable and measurable learning outcomes is essential, albeit ignored in many organisations. Here, I share with you my 5 step approach to writing learning outcomes that work.

1. Determine The Level Of The Performance And Knowledge

There isn’t much point writing learning outcomes that are directed at a level below or above the performance required. In Australia we use the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) as the national body that determines the appropriate level. Although the AQF is directed at qualifications (from 1 to 9 /unskilled to PhD), it gives outcome descriptors for each level. So if you are writing learning outcomes for senior managers you probably should aim for AQF descriptors between 7 or 8 (a degree to post graduate qualification).

Have a look at the following two abbreviated examples. They come from 2 undergraduate units:

  • Articulate how the historical transformation...
  • Outline characteristics of a range of communication mediums...

So you would expect they would be written as level 7 outcomes. Imagine the difference if the outcomes were re-written to reflect their appropriate undergraduate level:

  • Analyze how the historical transformation...
  • Interpret the characteristics of selected communication mediums...

2. Determine The Capabilities Expected

You’ve probably seen recruitment ads where you’ve been asked to demonstrate your ‘excellent communication skills’. This may be an admirable aspiration, but how would you assess ‘excellent’? And given that ‘communication’ is a field of study, what specific performance would be sought? Capabilities need to be considered within the context of the performance – which includes both the skill and its supporting knowledge.

Although there is discussion around ‘competencies’ and ‘capabilities’ these days, essentially I see the distinction as the actual, sufficient performance versus the desired performance, that is able to be developed. So, capabilities involve applying competencies in familiar as well as novel contexts.

Given the push for innovation and agility, capability seems to be the preferred attribute. In any case, an outcome needs to ensure that it is described in a manner that enables a judgement to be made against a performance.

So, outcomes need to be clear and specific about a desired performance rather than an aspirational goal. For example, rather than ‘excellent communication skills’, you could write ‘able to motivate staff to achieve a team outcome’.

3. Develop The Outcome Language

Two points:

1. Write outcomes with ‘outcomes’ in mind – not content (content will develop out of the outcomes).

Outcomes should focus on either the performance or knowledge required. The following two examples, taken from The Industry Skills Council, show how outcomes can be written with a focus on the performance required, as in the 1st example, or the knowledge required, as in the 2nd example:

  • Analyze information from a range of sources to identify the scope and context of the risk management process.
  • Outline the purpose and key elements of current risk management standards.

2. Write outcomes with language that align with the national framework (AQF).

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a well-known method which offers a simple hierarchical method to group outcomes. Again, check the descriptors against the AQF for the level of the performance required.

4. Consult With Stakeholders

After considering these prior steps you should have developed a reasonable idea about writing your learning outcomes. Now it’s important to check the performance and knowledge required from stakeholders. Stakeholders are those people who will be impacted by the performance resulting from the learning outcomes. For example, the person’s supervisor, customers/clients, possibly people in other sections. And most importantly someone who already possesses those skills.

Also, if you’re involved in developing learning outcomes for qualifications, you should also refer to the generic ‘Employability skills’ (for vocational education qualifications), and ‘Graduate attributes’ (for higher education qualifications) required by the various institutions.

5. Determine The Evidence Required

It may seem strange to include a consideration of the evidence required for assessment when developing learning outcomes. But, since evidence is used to judge a 'capable' performance, learning outcomes need to reflect the various familiar and novel contexts of a capable performance.