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Instruction and Course Design
Developing Outcomes

Learning outcomes are clear and concise statements of the knowledge, skills, and abilities students must master and effectively demonstrate by the end of a learning module, course, program, or their time at Concordia. Learning outcomes should be measurable in that students can readily demonstrate their mastery.

Benefits of learning outcomes

Clearly-articulated learning outcomes can help students understand the knowledge, skills, and abilities they are expected to master and demonstrate and thereby help students pace their learning and monitor their progress. Effective learning outcomes are measurable through a mix of assessments that can be used to measure students’ mastery of a concept, subject, or discipline.

Learning outcomes help structure the development of a course by providing a framework for course design decisions, targeting appropriate assessments, and guiding the selection of relevant course content and supplemental materials. In addition, program-level outcomes help structure which content is built into each course and assessed throughout a student's journey.

University learning outcomes provide a shared vision of educational goals and values across various content, disciplines, and majors within the institution's framework. Additionally, outcomes at this level contribute to accreditation, foundational curriculum mapping, and initial student enrollment attraction.

Levels of learning outcomes

The University requires that courses incorporate multiple levels of learning outcomes:

  • Learning module outcomes
  • Course-level outcomes
  • Program-level outcomes
  • University-level outcomes

Think of the levels of learning outcomes as a pyramid where assessments are at the top. These assessments are how the learning module outcomes are measured and validated. The learning module outcomes map to one or more course-level outcomes. Course-level outcomes then map to one or more program-level outcomes, which are broad statements of what students must master and demonstrate.

The following example illustrates the mapping of assessments to module, course, program, and university-level outcomes for PSY 102, Intro to Psychology:PSY 102 Learning outcomes blue pyramid hiearchy structure

Learning module outcomes

Learning module outcomes state what a student will know, understand, and be able to demonstrate as a result of completing a single module within a course. A learning module should have 4-6 stated outcomes, each with a means for assessing student learning.

Learning module outcomes should link to course-level outcomes.

Course-level outcomes

Course-level outcomes state what a student will know, understand, and be able to demonstrate as a result of completing a specific course. A course should have 5-7 stated outcomes that are appropriate for the academic level of the course (See: Aligning learning outcomes with the learning level.)

Course-level outcomes should link to program-level outcomes. In some cases, course-level outcomes must also link to university-level outcomes.

Program-level outcomes

Program-level outcomes state what a student will know, understand, and be able to demonstrate as a result of completing an academic program. An academic program should have 4-6 stated outcomes.

Program-level outcomes may link to university-level outcomes or program requirements articulated by outside agencies such as the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

An example of program-level outcomes outside of a specific major are the General Education Outcomes that apply to all General Education courses.

University-level outcomes

In some cases, the University articulates outcomes that apply at a higher level than a single academic program. These are outcomes that must apply to all academic programs and courses.

As with other outcomes, university-level outcomes state what a student will know, understand, and be able to demonstrate as a result of completing a sequence or group of courses during their time at Concordia.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a set of measurable verbs organized into a hierarchical model to help classify and describe educational learning outcomes. This model is divided into three objective domains of learning: cognitive (most commonly used), psychomotor, and affective. Each domain is broken down into varying levels of skill progression building upon one another. 

Below is an example of the cognitive domain's six levels that are widely used to structure outcomes and assessments:

Bloom's Taxonomy cognitive domain hierarchy represented as a blue pyramid structure

Adapted from

Bloom’s taxonomy is a powerful tool to help develop learning outcomes because it explains the process of learning:

  • Before you can understand a concept, you must remember it.
  • To apply a concept, you must first understand it.
  • To evaluate a process, you must have analyzed it.
  • To create an accurate conclusion, you must have completed a thorough evaluation.

Aligning learning outcomes with learning levels

Learning outcomes should be appropriately aligned to the learning level of the courses in which they are demonstrated. For example, students in a 100-level, or introductory, course should be expected to demonstrate skills within the first two levels of Bloom’s: Remember and Understand. Courses within a major should be built to scaffold student skills and utilize the four higher levels of Bloom’s: Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create. Similarly, for graduate courses, students should be expected to demonstrate the highest levels of Bloom’s: Evaluate and Create.

The following table maps Bloom’s levels with course levels. A detailed description of each level is included below.

Skill Development Course Level Bloom's Level Outcome Verbs Achievement Examples


Discovery & Exploration



Remember list, recite, outline, define, name, match, quote, recall, identify, label, recognize Recall facts and basic concepts



Understand describe, explain, paraphrase, restate, give original examples of, summarize, contrast, interpret, discuss Explain ideas or concepts


Development & Application

Intermediate  200 Apply calculate, predict, apply, solve, illustrate, use, demonstrate, determine, model, perform, present Relate concepts to practical applications
Intermediate  200 Analyze classify, break down, categorize, analyze, diagram, illustrate, criticize, simplify, associate Draw connections between ideas or concepts



Evaluation & Achievement



Evaluate choose, relate, determine, defend, compare, contrast, argue, justify, support, convince, select, evaluate Justify a stance or decision



Create design, formulate, build, invent, create, compose, generate, derive, modify, develop Produce an original work

Learning outcome verb examples adapted from, Nelson Baker at Georgia Tech:

100-level courses

100-level courses are introductory in nature and should not have any prerequisites. They should focus on students’ ability to remember and understand basic concepts and terminology.

General Education courses

As introductory (100-level) courses, general education courses should be at the 100 level. They should focus on the Remembering and Understanding levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Course outcomes for General Education courses should focus on students’ ability to 1) recall facts and basic concepts and/or 2) explain ideas or concepts.

200-level courses

200-level courses are considered intermediate and often require students to have completed a pre-requisite at the 100-level. Courses at the 200-level should focus on the students’ ability to apply and analyze concepts and theories while developing and solidifying these skills. 

300 & 400-level courses

300 & 400-level courses are considered as moving into the advanced levels and can include courses such as seminars and/or capstones. Courses at the 300 & 400-level should focus on students’ skills of evaluating and creating original ideas and content.

Writing effective learning outcomes

To write effective learning outcomes, it is essential to use clear and concise language and keep a student-centric focus with wording. Outcomes should be written from the perspective of the student to support students in understanding the knowledge, skills, and abilities they can expect to master and demonstrate as a result of their learning. Additionally, outcomes should be measurable in terms of student achievement and the ability to be recorded within the university's LMS for assessment purposes.

How outcomes are written and measured will depend on the “level” of the outcome. For example, program-level (higher-level) outcomes will be less specific than course-level (lower-level) outcomes or even module-level outcomes. Either way, it’s helpful to use a framework like the ABC(D) approach when creating outcomes.

The ABCs of higher-level learning outcomes

When writing higher-level learning outcomes, such as university or program outcomes, using an ABC approach can help you start to identify the goals of the outcomes before moving into the specifics of your wording. 

  • Affective - what do you want your students to care or think about after they graduate or complete the program?
  • Behavior - what do you want your students to be able to do after they graduate or complete the program?
  • Cognitive - what do you want your students to know after they graduate or complete the program?

The ABCDs of lower-level outcomes

The ABCD approach is an effective instructional design method that is especially applicable when writing learning outcomes for lower-level outcomes, such as course or module outcomes. Use the ABCD approach to identify the four key elements of a learning outcome:

  • Audience - who is the target audience? (gen ed students, graduate students, etc.)
  • Behavior - what will the student be able to think/do? (recall, explain, solve, etc.)
  • Condition - under what circumstances will they be expected to perform? (end of course)
  • Degree - how well or will the behavior need to be performed? (within 75%, 5 pages, etc.)

Keep in mind this method can be used at all levels of outcome writing, with the understanding that the degree element can vary and/or be omitted depending on the level of outcome you are writing. For example, identifying a specific degree element may not apply to higher-level outcomes, like program- or university-level outcomes.

Example learning outcomes

By the end of this module (condition), students (audience) should be able to differentiate between (behavior) primary and secondary sources of information (degree).
By the end of this course (condition), students (audience) should be able to demonstrate (behavior) the ability to write clearly about the course content using the correct terminology and the standard grammar and mechanics of scholarly/academic writing. (degree)
As a result of participating in XXX (condition), students (audience) will be able to describe and identify (behavior) artistic efforts in arts and/or literature and their impact on society, culture, and themselves as an individual.

Assessing outcomes

Effective outcomes are measurable using appropriate assessments. The right assessment method depends on the level of student learning you expect to measure.

Whenever possible, students should be assessed using University-supported academic technology tools that are readily available to students and instructors.

Formative assessment

Formative assessment monitors student learning and provides ongoing feedback that students can use to improve their learning. In that sense, effective formative assessments allow students to demonstrate what they know and help them identify knowledge gaps, struggles, and misconceptions.

Formative assessments should start early, occur frequently, and be “low stakes,” meaning they do not have a high point value and allow multiple attempts. Formative assessments should allow students to express their knowledge through multiple methods, not just writing. This could include infographics that ask students to diagram a concept or video responses to other students.

Examples of formative assessments include:

  • Weekly assignments, particularly those that ask students to self-reflect or connect the concepts within a module to their own experiences
  • Interactive labs
  • Graded discussions, either online or in class, that ask students to reflect on their learning
  • Quizzes with immediate corrective feedback and multiple attempts
  • Short reflective writing assignments
  • Low-stakes group work that doesn’t span across multiple modules or sections of a course

Instructor feedback on formative assessments should be provided frequently and should be detailed and actionable. This feedback allows students to identify their own knowledge gaps. When actionable, this feedback gives students a clear path to close knowledge gaps.

Summative assessments

Summative assessments evaluate student learning at the end of a learning module. These assessments are generally higher-stakes than formative assessments, meaning have higher point values and students have fewer attempts to complete the assessment successfully.

Examples of summative assessments include:

  • Final or midterm exams
  • Major/final papers, capstone projects, or final presentations, particularly those that build on formative work students have already completed throughout the course

Summative assessments should always use a scoring rubric. A rubric not only helps instructors evaluate student work consistently and fairly, but when the rubric is shared with students, it clearly articulates what the students must complete to be successful.