Deciphering the learning outcome lingo

We’re studying learning outcome development in my Instructional Delivery class and, boy oh boy, do I wish I had taken a class or two in deciphering this nearly alternative language before I started teaching three years ago.

I’ll never forget looking at the course outline for the my first class. It was only four pages, but it was completely overwhelming. There were all sorts of things expected of me and all sorts of things the students were supposed to be able to do once they completed my course.

There were eight learning outcomes that students were supposed to achieve within 14 weeks. They were supposed to “diagnose,” “write,” “demonstrate,” “search,” and “read” all manner of topics by the time I was done with them.

I have had a successful 20-year career as a journalist and it’s been my job to translate complex documents. But I was overwhelmed by this flimsy four-pager. While I’m a long-time business writer, I was about to be stretched to teach several business-related topics of which I knew little. So, when the learning outcomes of this first course described a bunch of skills my students should acquire from me—skills that I felt I hadn’t mastered myself—I felt like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming transport truck.

I couldn’t interpret them; they were gibberish to me. I can honestly say that I didn’t fully understand what was expected of me until this year, my third year as a teacher. I think understanding came as a result of becoming comfortable with the subject matter but also with slowly learning the educational lingo. There sure is a lot of it.

Anyhow, in last week’s class, I finally learned how to read and develop learning outcomes and I’m grateful for it. It’s pretty straightforward—once someone teaches you how to comprehend them. Now I understand that learning outcomes are written using certain verbs that help us decide at what level a student should understand something when that outcome is reached.

If we want our learner to know the fundamentals, we might start a learning outcome with verbs such as “list,” “name,” “repeat” or “report.” If we want our learner to know how to apply the pieces of the lesson, or to grasp how they are related, we might use words such as “interpret,” “modify,” “contrast,” or “diagnose.” If we want the learner to reach the highest level of learning and be able to use the learning in new ways, we would use verbs like “invent,” “justify,” “reconstruct,” or “critique.”

Piece these verbs together into a detailed action and you have your learning outcome. And once you have your learning outcome, you can figure out what to focus on teaching in lessons because you’ll know at exactly what level students should comprehend the subjects you’re teaching.

This short lesson was an epiphany to me last week.

There’s so much to learn when you are a new teacher and absorbing that four-page course outline with its eight learning outcomes was beyond me three years ago.

If only somebody had been around to teach me the language of learning outcomes all that time ago.


About teachingteacher

Business communications instructor, journalist, corporate communications writer and media trainer ... and Masters Candidate M.Ad.Ed.
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2 Responses to Deciphering the learning outcome lingo

  1. Susan Hartwell says:

    Frank the video was wonderful!! It took me back to St FX and seeing everyone was great! I miss you all so much!!

  2. Thanks, Susan. I loved making it!

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