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Beginning Your Course Planning

How does the course planning begin? To get the most out of your efforts, there are a few simple steps:

  1. Define and refine learning outcomes.
  2. Design assessment opportunities that align with student outcomes.
  3. Determine the content and technology that will help the students complete assessments and achieve learning outcomes successfully.

Develop Learning Outcomes

In the area you teach, skills can be divided into three different domains: cognitive (thinking), affective (emotions/feelings/attitudes), and psychomotor (physical/kinetic). Holistic lessons including all three domains are often effective, comprehensive, and memorable for students.

The University of Connecticut’s Assessment Primer describes learning objectives for each of these domains in this way:

  • Cognitive: “What do you want your graduates to know?”
  • Affective: “What do you want your graduates to think or care about?”
  • Psychomotor/Behavioral: “What do you want your graduates to be able to do?”

Think about the goals for your students. What concepts should they be able to explain to others when they leave your class? How can they integrate their life experiences with the big ideas in your class? What skills should they be able to perform effectively when they finish your course?

Student learning outcomes, or SLOs, describe what students will be able to perform at the conclusion of an instructional unit such as a course, and the conditions of an acceptable performance. Developing 5-7 learning outcomes per course can help you set feasible, specific goals for your students. Each outcome is a simple sentence clarifying what the student will learn. Learning outcomes can also help you organize your units, as the course structure may align with specific outcomes. They also provide students with a roadmap to the course.

Writing Learning Outcomes


Three Levels of Learning Outcomes

Often learning outcomes can be tiered. There may be one ultimate learning outcome for the course, which is supported by 5-7 mediating outcomes, which are connected to foundational outcomes.

Ultimate: The most challenging skills and cognitively complex tasks students are to master. They demand high levels of thinking (e.g., analysis and evaluation) and problem solving and require students to not only use but to integrate several abilities they have acquired during the course.

Mediating: Skills and tasks your students will have to demonstrate and perform before they can achieve your ultimate objectives, representing a component or lower level of your ultimate objectives.

Foundational: Relatively low-order cognitive operations, such as being able to recognize or paraphrase technical definitions, recall basic facts, define concepts, and summarize theoretical frameworks.

You can develop an outcomes map to guide your course development; as you can see in the examples below, some are text-based while others are visuals.

Learning Outcomes Hierarchy

  • : The most challenging skills and cognitively complex tasks to master
  • : Skills and tasks students have to demonstrate and perform
  • : Relatively low-order cognitive operations

Guidelines for Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are best if they are specific and precise. They should be SMART: specific, measurable, applicable, realistic, and time-bound (Blanchard & Johnson, 1981).

As Mager states in his book Preparing Instructional Objectives, an objective (or outcome) is the intended result of the instruction, rather than the process. They should have these components: the audience, behavior, condition, and degree (Mager, 1984).



(EQUIPMENT/MATERIALS) Given ingredients and an oven, (WHO) the student will be able to (WHAT) bake a dozen doughnuts (HOW) by mixing the ingredients from scratch, baking them according to the instructions, and glazing them with sugar (CONDITION) within three hours (DEGREE OF COMPETENCY) which are all glazed appropriately, with a hole in the center, and non-burned.


Outcomes Map Example: GEO315

Outcomes Map Example: MUS241

Outcomes Map Example: PSC105


Mager’s Tips on Instructional Objectives

List of strong verbs for developing learning outcomes in all three domains (starts on page 3).

Characteristics of Good Learning Outcomes

Test Yourself

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