Planning for learning is an essential part of effective teaching.

When planning for learning, we need to consider the environment, learning objectives and our students.

Taking the constructive alignment approach, "knowledge is constructed by the activities of the learner" (Biggs, 2014, p. 9), is the most effective way to plan for learning. Start with what the learners need to do to achieve the learning outcomes.

The teaching cycle

In this cycle, teaching staff determine learning outcomes (see below section), and provide learning activities, assessment and feedback with the goal of developing graduate attributes. Each aspect of a course is connected to optimise learning and provide students with an effective structure for their studies.

Planning for learning Teaching Cycle

Source: Adapted from Biggs, J. (2014). Constructive alignment in university teaching. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1, 5-22.

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Developing learning outcomes/objectives

Learning outcomes are specific and clear statements of what students are expected to learn and able to demonstrate at the completion of their course of study (Ramsden, 2003). They are typically expressed in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes to be acquired to satisfy the educational need for which the course has been developed. Note that the term 'learning outcome' is often interchanged with the term ‘learning objective’. Learning outcomes are written to guide what the student is expected to do and achieve in the course, thus aiming for a student-centred perspective.

Why use learning outcomes?

Learning outcomes that are well written can serve to:

  • guide the design of your course (activities and assessment)
  • be used as a reference point to remind students how a topic or a concept relates to the bigger picture
  • provide a link to ensuring alignment with graduate outcomes that focus on higher-order thinking such as critical thinking and problem-solving.

Learning outcomes need to be assessable. This means you must be able to observe an action or be able to measure or evaluate the learners’ performance to determine whether the knowledge, skill or attitude has been attained.

Learning outcomes are:

  • student-centred and achievable within the course
  • measurable: students can determine whether they have mastered the goal or not
  • testable: instructors can determine whether students have mastered the goal or not
  • able to complete the sentence: “by the end of this course/module/session you will be able to….”.

Learning outcomes are not:

  • chapter headings (e.g. DNA Replication Minerals Organelles)
  • lists of concepts (e.g. Newton’s First Law, Loops, Second Law of Thermodynamics, First Derivative).

Writing measurable learning outcomes

  1. Identify the skill you want students to learn, for example, “seven steps of the research process”.
  2. Identify the level of knowledge required based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, for example, “to know the seven steps of the research process”.
  3. Select a verb that is observable to describe the behaviour at the appropriate level of learning, for example, “describe the seven steps of the research process”.
  4. Add additional criteria to indicate the context in which the skill may be measured, for example, “describe the seven steps of the research process when writing a paper”.

Common issues in developing learning outcomes

1. The objective is composed of weak verb terms which are hard to measure or assess. For example:

Understand

Appreciate

Comprehend

Grasp

Know

See

Accept

Have knowledge of

Be aware of

Be conscious of

Learn

Perceive

Value

Get

Apprehend

Be familiar with

2. The objective is composed of multiple sentences or includes many verbs. For example:

  • Original: “Describe and create a social media plan for your organisation.“
  • Revised: “Create a social media plan for your organisation.”

3. The objective is too specific or general.

4. The objective is unrealistic not considering the time, level and resources available to students for successful completion.

5. The objective is an action item and not a learning outcome. For example:

  • “By the end of this course, students will complete two quizzes and a midterm.”

 Resource
Learning outcomes (PDF, 305.3 KB)

Checklist for creating learning outcomes

  1. Does the learning goal identify what students will be able to do after the topic is covered?
  2. Is it clear how you would test the achievement?
  3. Do chosen verbs have a clear meaning?
  4. Is the verb aligned with the level of cognitive understanding expected of students?
  5. Is the terminology familiar/common? If not, is knowing the terminology a goal?
  6. Is it possible to write the goal so it is relevant and useful to students (e.g. represent a useful application)?

Learning outcomes and UQ policies

UQ outlines a range of principles and required procedures in the design and implementation of our courses.

  • The Course design policy outlines the required components and structures for our courses and who is responsible for the effective design of courses. This policy is particularly useful for the design of new courses and identifying support and approvals for enhancing course designs.
  • The Assessment policy outlines the principles, expectations and processes around assessment. Some assessment tasks (e.g. Examinations have specific rules) should be considered in the design of your course.
  • The eLearning procedure outlines the expected online presence all courses should have, particularly in Learn.UQ (Blackboard).
  • Courses at UQ are required to comply with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 (TEQSA Act) and the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act). The initial design and approval of courses alongside UQ’s quality assurance processes support compliance.
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Principles of learning

How students learn should inform our planning and facilitation of learning activities and assessment.

Read more about principles of learning

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Designing learning activities

Learning activities need to align with their assessment, with the learning outcomes for the course/program overall, and with the students' needs at this stage of their learning. 

Read more about planning and designing learning activities

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 Ready to Teach Week

Twice a year, ITaLI puts together a program of online and in-person activities designed to help you prepare course materials for the upcoming semester.

Need help?

ITaLI offers personalised support services across various areas including planning for learning and developing learning outcomes.