After reading this guide, you will understand the best way to set clear, actionable learning outcomes, and how to write them to improve instruction and training within your organization.
- What are learning outcomes?
- 5 types of learning outcomes
- Learning outcomes vs learning objectives
- Examples of learning objectives and learning outcomes
- Learning outcomes examples
- How to write learning outcomes
- Learning outcomes verbs
What are learning outcomes?
Learning outcomes are descriptions of the specific knowledge, skills, or expertise that the learner will get from a learning activity, such as a training session, seminar, course, or program.
Learning outcomes are measurable achievements that the learner will be able to understand after the learning is complete, which helps learners understand the importance of the information and what they will gain from their engagement with the learning activity.
Creating clear, actionable learning outcomes is an important part of the creation of training programs in organizations. When developing these programs, both management and instructors need to be clear about what learners should understand after completing their learning path.
Learning outcomes also play a key role in assessment and evaluation, making clear what knowledge learners should have upon completion of the learning activity.
A well-written learning outcome will focus on how the learner will be able to apply their new knowledge in a real-world context, rather than on a learner being able to recite information.
The most useful learning outcomes include a verb that describes an observable action, a description of what the learner will be able to do and under which conditions they will be able to do it, and the performance level they should be able to reach.
5 types of learning outcomes
1. Intellectual skills
With this type of learning outcome, the learner will understand concepts, rules or procedures. Put simply, this is understanding how to do something.
2. Cognitive strategy
In this type of learning outcome, the learner uses personal strategies to think, organize, learn and behave.
3. Verbal information
This type of learning outcome is when the learner is able to definitively state what they have learned from an organized body of knowledge.
4. Motor skills
This category is concerned with the physical ability to perform actions, achieving fluidity, smoothness or proper timing through practice.
This is the internal state that reflects in the learner’s behavior. It is complex to quantify but can be shown in the learner’s response to people or situations.
Learning outcomes vs learning objectives: what is the difference?
You will often see learning outcomes and learning objectives used interchangeably, but they are different. The following concepts and examples will show how learning objectives and learning outcomes for the same activity are different, although connected to each other.
Perspective of the teacher vs student
Learning objective: Why the teacher is creating a learning activity.
Example: This training session will discuss the new policy for reporting travel expenses.
Learning outcome: What the learner will gain from the learning activity.
Example: The learner understands how to properly report travel expenses.
Purpose vs outcome
Learning objective: States the purpose of the learning activity and the desired outcomes.
Example: This class will explain new departmental HR policies.
Learning outcome: States what the learner will be able to do upon completing the learning activity.
Example: The learner is able to give examples of when to apply new HR policies.
Future vs past
Learning objective: What the teacher hopes that the learning activity will accomplish. It looks to the future, what will happen.
Example: This seminar will outline new health and safety protocols.
Learning outcome: This looks at what has been accomplished, what has happened for the learner as a result of their participation in the activity.
Example: Seminar participants can correctly identify new protocols and explain why they have been established.
Intended outcome vs observed outcome
Learning objectives: What the creators of the learning activity hope to achieve.
Example: This training activity will illustrate the five styles of effective communication in the workplace.
Learning objectives: What can be demonstrably shown to have been achieved by the activity.
Example: Learners can list and define the styles of communication.
Specific units of knowledge vs broad outcome
Learning objective: Describes discrete concepts, skills, or units of knowledge.
Example: This lecture will list ten ways to de-escalate a confrontation in the workplace.
Learning outcome: Describes a wider range of behavior, knowledge and skill that makes up the basis of learning.
Example: Learners can reliably demonstrate how to use de-escalation techniques to neutralize conflicts.
Examples of learning objectives and learning outcomes
Activity: An onboarding class for new hires
Learning objective: After taking this class, new hires will understand company policies and know in which situations to apply them.
Learning outcome: Learners are able to identify situations in which company policies apply and describe the proper actions to take in response to them.
This type of learning outcome deals with knowledge or intellectual skills. The learner understands the new concept that they are being taught.
Activity: A seminar designed to help HR officers improve mediation
Learning objective: This seminar will teach learners how to effectively mediate disputes using basic conflict dynamics and negotiation.
Learning outcome: Learners understand and be able to apply basic conflict resolution practices in the workplace.
This type of learning outcome measures performance, learners are able to use what they learned in a real-world situation.
Activity: An online training session for new product management software
Learning objective: Session will cover the three main areas of the software.
Learning outcome: Learners are able to operate software and explain the functions that they are using.
This type of learning outcome deals with competence or skill. The learner can demonstrate their understanding of the new concept.
Activity: A virtual reality training session on how to replace machine components
Learning objective: Session will demonstrate the steps to remove and replace components.
Learning outcome: Learners can correctly remove and replace components of each machine, explaining what they are doing and why.
This learning outcome deals with motor skills. Learners can physically demonstrate the outcome of their learning.
Activity: A lecture on organization strategies
Learning objective: Lecture will illustrate how proper organization can help managers optimize workflow within their teams.
Learning outcome: Learners can demonstrate how they will use organization strategies with actionable steps.
This outcome deals with verbal information. Learners can verbalize the knowledge they have gained and synthesize solutions for their workflow.
You can see that, although learning objectives and learning outcomes are related, they are different, and address different aspects of the learning process.
Learning outcomes examples
As mentioned above, well-written learning outcomes focus on what the learner can concretely demonstrate after they complete the learning activity. A learning outcome is only useful if it is measurable. So, it should include the learning behaviors of the learner, the appropriate assessment method, and the specific criteria that demonstrates success.
The following examples are well-written learning outcomes:
- learners will be able to identify which scenarios to apply each of the five types of conflict management.
- learners will be able to use the company’s LMS to effectively engage with and complete all training materials.
- learners will understand how to interpret marketing data and use it to create graphs.
- learners will understand how to employ company-prescribed SEO practices while writing copy.
- learners can properly use company guidelines to create case studies.
- learners will be able to properly operate and clean the autoclaves.
The following examples are poorly written learning outcomes:
- learners will understand conflict management.
- learners will know how to use the company’s LMS.
- learners will appreciate how to use marketing data.
- learners will know about the company’s SEO practices.
- learners will understand what goes into a case study.
- learners will learn about autoclaves.
How to write learning outcomes
Defining learning outcomes is also a key stage of instructional design models such as the ADDIE model and SAM. The first step of the more in-depth ADDIE model is “analyze.” During this stage is to set the goals for the new training program. This goal should be broken down into a list of clearly explained learning outcomes. While SAM takes a more rapid approach to instructional design, the primary purpose of the first preparation stage is to identify the desired learning outcomes of the program.
When writing learning outcomes, there are a few rules that you should follow.
1. Learning outcomes always use an action verb.
What action verbs can be used when writing learning outcomes?
Depending on the type of outcome, different verbs are appropriate.
Learning outcomes verbs
- Give examples
2. Learning outcomes must be written clearly, and should be easy to understand.
3. Learning outcomes should clearly indicate what learners should learn from within the discipline they are studying.
4. Learning outcomes must show what the expected level of learning or understanding should be, and it should be reasonable to the level of the learners.
5. Learning outcomes help with assessment, and thus should clearly indicate what success looks like for the learner.
6. There should not be too few or too many learning outcomes. Four to six is the ideal number.
Here are some additional tips (with example) for writing learning outcomes.
Example: a course on accounting software.
You must first start with the main learning goal of the learning activity.
The learning goal would be that the learners will become adept at the software. But that is too vague to be a learning outcome. It doesn’t tell learners what they are expected to learn, nor is it useful for assessments. Instead, that goal should be broken down into smaller parts.
The learning outcomes for this accounting course might be:
- Learners are able to generate invoices.
- Learners understand how to process income tax payments.
- Learners can demonstrate how to properly set up payroll.
- Learners can explain how to use reports to track company expenses.
All of these outcomes are clear, action-oriented and can be assessed by the instructor.
Using a simple formula of action verb plus content to be learned plus the context in which it will be used, you can create a well-written learning outcome. These learning outcomes will improve the results of learners, as they will be clear about what they are expected to learn and will be able to focus on the most pertinent information throughout the course.