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Workshop on Intended Learning Outcomes

I’ve already mentioned that my institution has increased the emphasis on the scholarship of teaching and learning over the past few years, by placing it on an equal footing with research. This has forced all academics to reconsider their roles within the university, which many have resisted. Luckily (for me) I work in a department where we see these changes as opportunities for growth, rather than obstacles to be baulked at. As part of our response to this challenge, we’ve been working at integrating a scholarship of teaching and learning into our everyday teaching practices, including (among many other things), regular workshops to aid with both staff development and curricular alignment.

Today we had a workshop on using learning outcomes to structure a module, with the intention that we would each take one of our modules and refine the outcomes before working on aligning teaching strategies, assessment and content. I didn’t take too many notes, as we were provided with handouts but here are the notes I did take. Nothing ground breaking if you’ve read anything about learning outcomes before but bear in mind that the emphasis of the workshop was on the application of concepts to our actual modules, as opposed to a purely learning activity.

  • It is important to expose learners’ current and prior knowledge / understanding before beginning a learning activity, and then try to build on that
  • We don’t “teach”, so much as we create an environment conducive to students’ learning
  • Learning outcomes can be useful guides / “maps” for both new and experienced staff members
  • Objectives (related to teacher) are different to outcomes (related to student)
  • Programme outcomes (might be found in a mission statement) must be linked to module outcomes
  • Outcomes must be specific
  • Use concept mapping to link outcomes, lectures and assessment
  • Students just out of high school may need to be taught how to learn
  • Get students to agree to take responsibility for their own learning, possibly in the first lecture, by making explicit what the roles / expectations are of everyone involved
  • Make a list of the things that bug you about students, and get students to agree to not do those things. Then ask them what you do that bugs them, and agree to try and avoid those too. Ask regularly, “what is working / not working for you right now?”

Benefits of learning outcomes:

  • Helps to structure the module content
  • Helps to guide assessment practices
  • Helps to direct teaching strategies
  • Provides a measure of accountability
  • Helps students to focus on what to study / learning outcomes are the “scope of the exam”


  • Learning activities are “supported” by assessment / assessment drives learning
  • Many students come into higher education thinking “Give me the stuff, and I’ll give it back to you”. How can we change that mindset?
  • Look at how SAQA’s level descriptors link to learning outcomes, and make them specific to module descriptors (1st year = level 5, 2nd year = level 6, 3rd year = level 7, 4th year = level 8)
  • Try to get students to see why the outcomes are important i.e. do they have personal meaning for the students, or are they just words
  • Review the lecture outcomes at the beginning and end of the lecture. Ask students if they felt that the outcomes were achieved