Step One: Knowing and doing

The first step in creating a learning outcome is to understand what it is you want your learners to know and do by the end of the course (e.g. the knowledge and the skills you want them to possess) and at what level you want them to be able to do so (basic, proficient, master).  You should take into consideration the course level, any prerequisites, and course requirements (e.g. writing in the discipline or quantitative reasoning).

Step Two: Measuring Expectations

Once you are clear on your expectations, you will need to communicate those expectations in a way that 1) will allow you to measure student progress and b) will give your learners a clear understanding of your shared goals for the course.

Let’s start with making them measurable. To do so, we will consult a revised Bloom’s Taxonomy for Learning, which will guide us to identifying a measurable way to express what we want our learners to know and do.  To make sure your learning outcomes are measurable, follow this simple formula:

Learning Outcomes Formula: Action Verb + Skill or Knowledge + Proficiency

Let’s take a look at a few examples written at different levels of proficiency: 

Basic: Learners will define and identify all of the elements of effective storytelling.

Proficient: Learners will analyze the elements of effective storytelling in example texts.

Mastery: Learners will write an original screenplay that employs all of the elements of effective storytelling.


Basic: Learners will define ethnography and identify current methods.

Proficient: Learners will compare historical and contemporary ethnographic texts in order to track changes in ethnographic methodology.

Mastery: Learners will design an ethnographic project that uses current methods to gather, analyze, and present findings.


Basic: Learners will define sustainability and identify sustainability practices and methodologies.

Proficient: Learners will apply sustainability practices and methodologies to case studies.

Mastery: Learners will design a solution to a local sustainability issue that demonstrates current methods in the field. 

Step Three: Being Learner-Centered

Learning outcomes should be written with your audience in mind. Learners should be able to use the learning outcomes to identify the course’s priorities and understand your expectations for their learning and work. Here are some items to consider when writing learning outcomes:

  • Use clear, concise language to explain what you want learners to know and do by the end of the course.
  • Use learner-centered language (plain language, jargon-free, and specific).
  • Focus on actions and behaviors (think about processes, products, artifacts, performances).

Remember that we are writing learning outcomes (what you want learners to know and do) and not teaching outcomes (what and how you will instruct them).

Step Four: Measuring Success

As you write learning outcomes, you should be thinking about how you will go about measuring them. For the most part, the tool you will be using will be written in the outcome itself. For example, if you want learners to present a solution to a problem, then you will probably have them write a paper or deliver a speech (as opposed to take a test). Thinking about tools to measure student success and progress at this stage will help you later on when you start to formulate your chronology of study, lesson plans, and assessments.