Creating Student Learning Outcomes
What are student learning outcomes?
A learning outcome is one sentence that indicates what students should represent, demonstrate, or produce as a result of what they learn (taken from Peggy Maki). Some examples of the goals and general rules for creating student learning outcomes appear in the following list.
- Systematic, structured look at what students are learning in library instruction
- Moving from "What am I going to teach today?" to "What do I want students to learn today?"
- Not the same as evaluating teaching; instead focusing on student learning
- Different from other library assessment efforts such as LibQual
- Can be created for a one-shot library instruction session, a library instruction program for a particular course (e.g. Freshman Writing), or the entire library instruction program at a library.
Characteristics of good learning outcomes
Good student learning outcomes:
- Focus on what students will learn/know/be able to do (such as identify a relevant database in Research Port);
- Describe actions or behaviors (e.g. searching the catalog or retrieving the full text of an article);
- Are results-oriented and focus on something the student could demonstrate to you;
- Are observable and measurable, something you could see or count like the number of articles in a student's bibliography that were retrieved using a library database;
- Include a time frame (e.g. what students will know/be able to do at the end of a library instruction session).
ACRL standards and learning outcomes
- 3 levels: standards, performance indicators, outcomes
- Can be used as a framework for a learning outcomes assessment plan
- Provide examples of learning outcomes, such as: (1) Identifies keywords, synonyms and related terms for the information needed. (2) Selects an appropriate documentation style and uses it consistently to cite sources
Levels of learning: Bloom's taxonomy
Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (published in 1956 and revised in 2001) gives you a way to express learning outcomes in a way that reflects cognitive (student thinking) levels.
There are six levels (lowest to highest cognitive skills):
Bloom's Taxonomy from Orey, M.(Ed.).(2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology.
Suggested formula for library instruction outcomes
A well-designed learning outcome has the following components:
- Time frame
- Student focus
- Action verb
Here is an example of learning outcomes using the formula:
- Time frame: "At the end of the library session...
- Student focus: ...students will be able to...
- Action verb: ...identify...
- Product/process: ...a relevant database for their term paper research."
Verbs for library instruction outcomes
Bloom's taxonomy (see above) is helpful for identifying useful verbs to describe student learning. Examples of learning outcomes verbs for library instruction include:
- Knowledge/Remembering: define, list, recognize
- Comprehension/Understanding:characterize, describe, explain, identify, locate, recognize, sort
- Application/Applying: choose, demonstrate, implement, perform
- Analysis/Analyzing: analyze, categorize, compare, differentiate
- Evaluation/Evaluating: assess, critique, evaluate, rank, rate
- Synthesis/Creating: construct, design, formulate, organize, synthesize
There are some verbs to avoid when writing learning outcomes. These verbs are too vague and often not observable or measurable. For example, how would you measure whether someone has "become familiar with" a particular tool? Use a more specific verb. If you want students to "understand" something, think more closely about what you want them to be able to DO or PRODUCE as a result of their "understanding."
Verbs to avoid:
- Know about
- Become familiar with
- Learn about
- Become aware of
Checklist for creating learning outcomes
To check whether your learning outcomes are well-crafted, you can use this checklist. Ask: Does my learning outcome...
- Include a time frame (e.g by the end of the library instruction session)?
- Focus on students (e.g. students will be able to...)?
- Use action verbs (e.g. describe, identify, differentiate)?
- Name a product or process (e.g. search WorldCat, create a citation in APA format)?
- Let me observe or measure the result (e.g. I have a way to count correct responses)?
- Suggest a way to measure/suggest a method (e.g. I can easily see a way to tell whether students have learned this skill)?
- Tell me something I really want to know about student learning (e.g. something that will help me improve student learning the next time I teach)?
Examples of learning outcomes
- Students will be able to differentiate between a peer-reviewed journal and other types of articles.
- Students will know the name and contact information for their subject librarian.
- Students will be able to list ways to get help from librarians.
- Students can identify two scholarly journal articles on [insert subject].
- Using information from the Catalog, students will be able to identify a book in the library.
- Students will be able to locate (find in the stacks) a book.
- Students will be able to use Research Port to identify relevant subject-specific databases.
- Students will be able to explain how "Find It" works.
- Students will be able to explain the functions of Boolean operators.
- Students will be able to use X search feature (e.g. truncation) to construct a relevant search.
- Students will be able to identify significant features in a specific citation type (e.g. book chapter).
- Students will be able to produce a correct citation using (a particular) format.