Taxonomies of learning and action verbs for drafting learning outcomes


Learning outcomes make clear to students the knowledge and skills they need to demonstrate in order to achieve success in a unit.

Toohey (1999) lists characteristics of effective learning outcomes. They:

  • place the development of the learner and the learner’s skills within the context of the subject/discipline
  • consider what students should know, understand and be able to do (or demonstrate they can do)
  • start with an action verb
  • are meaningful, not trivial
  • allow for the development of new skills or further development of existing skills
  • go beyond content knowledge
  • are low in number (aim for 4-6).

It is important that the criteria you develop for assessing student work align with the learning outcomes.

Following are some key principles to bear in mind when developing learning outcomes.

  • Student-centred: Learning outcomes express what students will know, understand and be able to do at the end of a unit.
  • Demonstrable: Students will have an opportunity to demonstrate achievement of this outcome, by doing something (e.g. analysing, problem-solving, communicating, working as a member of a team). Careful use of verbs is important. It is important to remember that learning outcomes must go beyond content knowledge. What students do with their content knowledge is what’s most important.
  • Measurable: You need to be able to measure the quality of students’ work in order to assess their learning against the outcome. Assessment is about the quality of students’ work and is not to be confused with quantity. The foundation question in assessment is ‘how well’ rather than ‘how many’. For example, ‘how well did a student cite others’ ideas’, rather than ‘how many citations did they use’?
  • Achievable: It needs to be reasonable that students can achieve the outcome in the given time-frame and context. You may need to revise and/or qualify the level of achievement. Talking through your expectations with students is one way of ensuring students know what to aim for.
  • Clear: Provide clarity for the student. Try to be clear without being overly specific.
  • Meaningful: Ensure the learning outcomes are meaningful in terms of your discipline/profession.
  • Relevant: The outcome must be relevant to the unit, the year level of the unit within the course, to the course and to the discipline more broadly. Think about the sorts of knowledge and skills graduates will need for their future professional practice, including their communication skills, their critical thinking skills, etc.

If you need support in crafting learning outcomes for your unit contact Learning Innovations.