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Archived Articles


Tips for Writing Measurable Learning Outcomes

March 6, 2016 | By Rob Wood
Instructional Design
Teaching Effectiveness

“Upon completion of this unit, the learner will appreciate the significance of…” something, something. Or, the learner will “be able to demonstrate an understanding” of something or other. I cringe inside when I see supposed learning outcomes similar to these because they are not measurable. That is, there is no observable performance that adequately captures what a learner would actually do to “appreciate” or “understand.”

On the other hand, measurable learning outcomes clearly define the specific actions that a learner must perform. Measurable learning outcomes (or objectives) are the foundation of well-designed instruction because they focus on the results of the instruction, rather than the process.

Writing measurable learning outcomes takes time, effort, and practice. Here are some tips for writing measurable learning outcomes based on the Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Anderson et al., 2001).

  1. Think of the specific skill(s) that you want your learners to be able to perform when they complete their learning. For example, do you want them to “apply” principles? If so, under what conditions would they apply them? What would the actual application (i.e., the product) of the application look like?
  2. Ask yourself, “Why do I want learners to understand this?” Then consider “how” they can do something specific that is related to what you want them to understand.

If you want learners to understand what they are learning, ask them to construct meaning from what they are learning. Examples of action verbs include:

Categorize Clarify
Compare Explain
Extrapolate Generalize
Illustrate Infer
Paraphrase Predict

If you want learners to apply what they are learning, ask them to perform a task (or tasks) or to use a procedure. Examples of action verbs include:

Execute Experiment
Facilitate Implement
Modify Prepare
Produce Report

If you want learners to analyze what they are learning about, ask them to break material into its constituent parts and determine how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purposeExamples of action verbs include:

Classify Deconstruct
Differentiate Discriminate
Distinguish Find
Integrate Organize
Outline Parse
Select Structure

If you want learners to evaluate what they are learning about, use outcomes that ask them to make judgments based on criteria and standards. Examples of action verbs include:

Check Coordinate
Critique Detect
Judge Monitor
Research Test

If you want learners to create something related to what they are learning about, ask them to put elements together to form a coherent of functional whole or reorganize elements into a new pattern or structure. Examples of action verbs include:

Combine Construct
Create Design
Generate Hypothesize
Invent Model
Plan Produce

Writing measurable learning outcomes is both a science and an art. And it is worth taking the time to clearly define for learners, as well as instructors/trainers, specific, achievable actions.

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Curikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., & Wittrock, M. C. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York, NY: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

About the Author

Rob Wood

Dr. Wood is faculty member at the International Institute for Innovative Instruction at Franklin University, where he specializes in instructional design.