Skip to main content

Best Practices

The LTO Best Practices

Issue No. 49: Designing and assessing learning outcomes

Welcome to the forty-ninth issue of The LTO Best Practices. Each month, the Learning & Teaching Office will be spotlighting a timely topic in education. This October, our topic is "Designing and assessing learning outcomes."

Learning objectives and outcomes

Learning objectives are statements that describe specific instructional goals that are both observable and measurable (Cusson, 2012). Learning outcomes describe what students are expected to have learned or achieved; as a result, they usually describe what students will be capable of doing, or what evidence will be provided to substantiate learning. As summarized by Deakin University, “each intended learning outcome should describe the observable knowledge or skills that you expect students to be able to demonstrate as a result of their work in the unit." Assessment determines if the students have achieved the goals of the program. For this we need some form of evidence, reference points, benchmarks, or results:

Common learning outcomes and ways to assess them

Regardless of discipline or program, there are some common learning goals that all professors have for their students. Here are some examples of learning goals, with appropriate learning outcomes and matching assessments.

Think critically

  • Identify a problem
    • Assessment method: In-class group work and short presentation.
    • Learning outcome: Working together in small groups, the students will identify a problem and “acknowledge reasons for enduring uncertainty and absence of a single ‘correct’ solution.” They will work together to create a short presentation for the class that explains why people disagree about solutions to the given problem and why the solution to the problem can’t be known with certainty (Wolcott & Lynch, 2001).
  • Propose a solution to a problem
    • Assessment method: Discussion on Blackboard
    • Learning outcome: Working together in groups, the students will prepare a solution to the problem. The students will collaborate on a post on Blackboard that explains their solution to the class. The post must identify the issues they weighed while developing their solution, explain how they prioritized those issues, and describe how the solution might change given different priorities. Each group must also ask the other groups questions about their solutions, and be able to respond effectively to arguments that support other reasonable solutions (Wolcott & Lynch, 2001).
  • Integrate, monitor, and refine strategies for addressing a problem
    • Assessment method: Report
    • Learning outcome: Working together in groups, the students will acknowledge and explain the limitations of their endorsed solution, and demonstrate skill in “generating and using information to monitor strategies and make reasonable modifications.” The students will develop a professional report that includes their proposed solution to the problem, describes the limitations of their proposed solution, explains the implications of those limitations, and establishes a plan for monitoring the performance of their proposed solution (Wolcott & Lynch, 2001).

Write competently

  • Evaluate academic sources
    • Assessment method: Annotated bibliography
    • Learning outcome: Working together in groups, the students will acknowledge and explain the limitations of their endorsed solution, and demonstrate skill in “generating and using information to monitor strategies and make reasonable modifications.” The students will develop a professional report that includes their proposed solution to the problem, describes the limitations of their proposed solution, explains the implications of those limitations, and establishes a plan for monitoring the performance of their proposed solution (Wolcott & Lynch, 2001). 
  • Develop a thesis statement
    • Assessment method: Research paper proposal
    • Learning outcome: Using the five peer-reviewed journal articles that they analyzed in their annotated bibliography, the student will analyze the scholarly debate surrounding their research question and formulate an answer to their research question. The student will write a short research paper proposal that includes their thesis statement, the questions to be answered by their research, and a summary of their analysis of the relevant perspectives in the scholarly discourse.
  • Organize a research paper
    • Assessment method: Research paper outline
    • Learning outcome: Using the five peer-reviewed journal articles that they analyzed in their annotated bibliography, the student will analyze the scholarly debate surrounding their research question and formulate an answer to their research question. The student will write a short research paper proposal that includes their thesis statement, the questions to be answered by their research, and a summary of their analysis of the relevant perspectives in the scholarly discourse.
  • Critique writing
    • Assessment method: Peer review of drafts
    • Learning outcome: The students will divide into pairs and each will conduct a peer review of the other’s paper. Using rubrics and models provided by the instructor, the student will provide constructive feedback on their fellow student’s draft. The student will praise what works well in the draft, comment on large issue with the draft (For example: Is the paper effectively organized? Is evidence used properly? Is there a clear focus?), identify what is missing, needs further explanation, or could be cut, make specific suggestions for revision, and explain in clear and specific terms the reasoning behind all their comments (University of Wisconsin).

Display their knowledge

  • Explain their research
    • Assessment method: Oral presentation
    • Learning outcome: The student will summarize the findings of their research paper in a clear and succinct manner. In a five-minute presentation to the class, the student will provide a brief background for their research, articulate the implications of their findings, and successfully defend their argument during a short question and answer period. 
  • Teach others about a topic in the course
    • Assessment method: Slides for a presentation
    • Learning outcome: The student will build a slide deck that could accompany a presentation on a topic in the course. The student will choose a topic from the list provided by the instructor, an audience for their presentation (i.e. high school, academic conference, etc.), and then use PowerPoint or Google Presentation to construct a presentation appropriate to that audience. The presentation should effectively organize the content, convey the important points of the lesson, and support the content via well-chosen visuals (Eggers & McNierney, 2007). 
  • Answer a variety of questions on the course content
    • Assessment method: Final exam with both fixed-choice and open-ended questions
    • Learning outcome: The student will be able to successfully answer a series of multiple-choice questions, selecting the correct response from one or more choices provided. The student will also be able to answer a series of short answer questions by supplying “the appropriate words, numbers, or symbols to answer a question or complete a statement.” Finally, the student will write a short essay that will “demonstrate through writing his/her ability to a) recall knowledge, b) organize this knowledge, and c) present the knowledge in a logical, integrated answer” (University of Texas). 

Read more about outcomes-based assessment [pdf]

Read more about matching assessments to learning outcomes [pdf]

Top

Next Issue

"The LTO Best Practices" is produced monthly by Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate at The Learning & Teaching Office of Ryerson University.

Do you have any thoughts, suggestions, or best practices that you would like to see appear in this newsletter? Please send all submissions to michelle.schwartz@ryerson.ca. We look forward to including your contributions in our next issue!

Contact Us

Location: Kerr Hall West, room KHW373.
Phone: 416.979.5000 x6598
Email: lto@ryerson.ca