Learning outcomes are measurable skills or attitudes students should gain from a course or an assignment. They might also be understood as levels of cognitive knowledge that we hope students will achieve. The act of writing can, in itself, develop knowledge and skills.
Learning outcomes should be clear both for a course and for an assignment. Ideally, assignments are structured so that students can build complex skills step by step. In reality, as they learn new skills, some of the older skills may temporarily, suffer. We commonly see this in writing with grammar and other basic skills. As students learn new forms of writing or focus attention on difficult new content, their basic writing skills may suffer. The best response is to encourage plenty of editing and revision, for example, by having students work on drafts in class or building in early due dates for drafts that get formative feedback.
Learning Outcomes for Courses
Common, but by no means exclusive, goals for W or C courses would be to develop the ability to:
Communicate with various audiences (e.g., lay, expert, managerial, general public)
Think critically, or view ideas or events from different perspectives
Argue effectively for one side, or for a compromise position
Design documents for readability and usefulness
Learn to appreciate a subject aesthetically or ethically
Evaluate and compare events, texts, ideas, or objects
Express a personal or organizational stance
Critique a text, argument, object, or idea
Below are exemplary outcomes statements taken from W and C Course Syllabi.
From BESC 484 (W)
Reading and Writing (Expected Outcome): Writing is process of practice and editing. For this class, at least 2,000 words of formal writing are required. The intent of the writing component of this professional experience is to facilitate and improve your ability to:
- Communicate clearly and effectively
- Demonstrate competence in usage of English grammar, mechanics, in the language specific to environmental professionals
- Write in a scientifically correct manner, including citations
From NUTR 430 (W)
This course is writing intensive and satisfies the writing component required by the University for the Nutritional Sciences major. Good writing* is essential to effective communication and is inseparable from content. Accurate facts written in an unorganized or unclear manner are wasted. Therefore, writing quality will be considered as part of every written assignment’s final grade in this course. A significant portion of this course will be devoted to giving you the opportunity to refine your own writing skills through class assignments. Since this course satisfies a university “W” requirement for this major, students will not receive credit for this course without passing the writing components of the course. *By “good writing” I mean standard edited American English for mechanics (grammar, punctuation, spelling, word usage); clarity of organization and argument; tone appropriate to the audience; and accurate content. Poorly written assignments will not be graded and will be returned for re‐writing; deductions will be assessed.
From DCED 301 and 401 (W)
Designated as a writing course, DCED 401 will fine tune writing skills through various graded and ungraded writing observations and assignments. Through these assignments, the technical aspect of writing and critical thinking skills will be homed in on, expanding the student’s understanding of dance pedagogy.
From BIOL 388 (C)
Communication Assignments: As a communication-intensive (C) course, BIOL 388 incorporates extensive writing and oral communication assignments to demonstrate knowledge of course material and to reinforce learning of physiological principles. Therefore, the communication portion of the course will have four graded writing assignments (including an independent research proposal) and one oral presentation associated with the independent laboratory projects developed by students during the semester. Details of the writing assignments and oral presentation will be provided in the laboratory sessions.
From MGMT 425 (C)
In addition, as a "C" course, this course requires writing and public speaking relevant to our area of study. The learning outcomes for this course, which is designed to facilitate both knowledge and skill acquisition in both content as well as communication, include the following:
- Develop a conceptual understanding of the key issues involved in selecting human resources in organizations.
- Develop the knowledge and skills necessary for both creating and implementing employee selection systems in organizations.
- Develop a strong value for evidence-based approaches to decision-making and their potential for improving the quality of employee selection procedures in organizations.
- Demonstrate the ability to apply evidence-based approaches and professional standards to evaluate employee selection systems in organizations.
Improve writing, public speaking, teamwork, critical thinking, and discussion skills through course requirements and class activities.
Learning Outcomes for Assignments
Another way to view the knowledge/skills gained by communication is to consider what rhetoricians call "aims." Any given document or speech, they claim, can be seen as having an underlying purpose, or "aim":
To explore (think from different perspectives, consider alternative views, create new perspectives)
To explain (explore underlying principles, demonstrate, or teach)
To persuade (argue for a position or stance, propose a course of action)
To express (make clear a stance, emotion, or identity)
To evaluate (provide a critique or assessment)
To learn (rehearse information, synthesize information, or acquire new information)
A document or speech might have one of these aims (or a variation thereof) as a primary goal; on the other hand, some have multiple aims. From this list, it is clear that by writing a document or planning a speech with one of these aims, students also practice skills such as argument, communication, or critical thinking.
Rhetoricians sometimes classify communication according to "modes," which also provide a way of thinking about possible learning outcomes for assignments. The modes include exposition and argument as primary categories:
Exposition (Explanation) Description
Process (Steps or Stages)
Definition (Categorical Proposition, or, x is y)
Again, several modes may be present in a given document or speech, but one may dominate. One advantage of using the modes to develop learning outcomes is that many rhetoric texts provide help in writing based on the modes.
For example, the typical handbook will include sections on writing a "Comparison/Contrast" essay or an "Extended Definition"; some writing textbooks also provide samples of writing that primarily demonstrate one of these modes. A proposal might define a problem (definition mode); assert the consequences of inaction (cause/effect); or explain how a similar problem has been solved (analogy). The document's aim would primarily be to persuade, but it could also explain and perhaps evaluate.
Consider a possible series of assignments leading to a formal proposal:
- A two-page letter to a person of authority explaining the consequences of acting or not acting to correct a problem (mode: cause/effect; aim: to persuade)
A seven to nine-page formal report to an audience capable of action, defining the problem and its current state, suggesting a solution, and arguing for its feasibility and its necessity (modes: analogy or cause/effect; aim: to persuade)
Walvoord, Barbara, and Virginia Johnson-Anderson, "Making Assignments Worth Grading" in Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment, pp. 17-26 (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998).
Angelo, Thomas A. and K. Patricia Cross. "The Teaching Goals Inventory" in Classroom Assessment Techniques. pp. 13-23 (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993).
Also useful is Bloom's Taxonomy (Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching) and the Depth of Knowledge levels (recommended by Texas A&M Center for Teaching Excellence).