What are Learning Outcomes?

“Learning outcomes are sets of competences, expressing what the student will know, understand or be able to do after completion of a process of learning, long or short.”[1]

“An intended learning outcome is a concise description of what a student will have learnt at the end of some learning process. One of the main advantages to stating the intended learning outcomes … from a course of study is the way in which this allows one explicitly to consider the ways in which the goals for student learning are constructively aligned with both the methods used for teaching and supporting learning and the assessment on the programme.”[2]

“Learning outcomes focus on what the student has achieved rather than merely focussing on the content of what has been taught.

Learning outcomes focus on what the student can demonstrate at the end of a learning activity.”[3]

Learning outcomes are now the de facto standard (and Bologna compliant) means of describing courses and modules at many levels of education; a reflection of the shift from a content centred approach to one which overtly recognises that the student is responsible for his/her own learning and has to be able to demonstrate attainment of key competencies and knowledge before being judged to have successfully completed a programme of learning.

There has however been some considerable debate[4] about learning outcomes and, in particular, their traditional association with behaviourist learning models and training programmes. This concern is recognised and it is important that their educational value and underlying principles of clarity, transparency and comparability are not lost in overly detailed and mechanistic implementations, or indeed in the use of vague and over-general descriptions.

Learning outcomes, used appropriately, provide a powerful approach to course design, helping to identify the most effective teaching and assessment methods. Learning outcomes, teaching & learning approaches and assessment methods should be “constructively aligned”[5] in order to achieve maximum benefit. Increasingly, the match between specified outcomes and assessment is subject to scrutiny through quality review and professional accreditation bodies and is also an aspect of the Bologna framework.


[1] “European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (Key Features)”, European Commission,  2004. Also available online at: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/education_culture/publ/pdf/ects/en.pdf

[2] University of Manchester, “Guide to Writing Aims and Intended Learning Outcomes”, 2004. Available online at http://www.campus.manchester.ac.uk/medialibrary/tlao/MAP/writing-aims-and-intended-learning-outcomes.pdf

[3] “Writing and Using Learning Outcomes: A Practical Guide”, D. Kennedy, UCC & NAIRTL, 2007

[4] “Update on the Issues and Applications of Learning Outcomes Associated with the Bologna Process.” S. Adams, Bologna Seminar, Edinburgh, 2008. Available online at http://www.ond.vlaanderen.be/hogeronderwijs/bologna/BolognaSeminars/documents/Edinburgh/Edinburgh_Feb08_Adams.pdf

[5] Biggs, John (1999) 'What the Student Does: teaching for enhanced learning', Higher Education Research & Development, 18:1, 57 - 75


An Introduction to Learning Outcomes (video)

A short video introduction to learning outcomes, produced by Michelle Tooher (CELT).


QA275 Learning Outcomes QuickGuide

A downloadable two page guide and checklist for learning outcomes.

Download Learning Outcomes Quick Guide


QA276 Programme Outcomes QuickGuide

Download Programme Outcomes Quick Guide


If you would like an individual consultation or advice, you are very welcome to contact the Educational Developer and an appointment can be booked via the CELT office.