Writing learning outcomes

Intended learning outcomes (ILOs) are descriptions of what students are expected to be able to demonstrate as a result of their engagement in learning. For a course, it is called CILOs. For a programme, it is called PILOs. They should all be aligned with each other according to the principles in outcome-based education.

There are three basic steps for writing learning outcomes:

Step 1: List all the concepts, or values or skills that are important to a lesson, a course or a programme.

ILOs in cognitive domain are often the most common in curriculum and instructional design. While it is possible, consider all three learning domains, affective, cognitive and psychomotor domains, instead of focusing on the cognitive domain only.

Step 2: Choose appropriate action verbs to describe the level of the achievement you expect from your students regarding these concepts, or values or skills.

Write a learning outcome that is:

  • Student-oriented:

ILOs are about what students can do as a result of their learning experiences. So the subject of a learning outcome should be STUDENTS. What is the problem with this learning outcome, “introduce to students how to write a literature review”? This is a description of the content to be introduced rather than a description of what students are expected to achieve. To ensure the learning outcomes are student-orientated, it is usually very helpful to start the statement with:

“By the end of the lesson/course/ programme, students will be able to …”.

  • Specific:

ILOs describe the expected student performance, which means we will need to assess students against them later. So when composing the ILOs, we have to think about the evidence of student learning that we can collect for the assessment. For this purpose, the ILOs have to be concrete enough to be measured.

“Know and “understand” are perhaps two words we would go for intuitively most frequently when writing ILOs. But what do we really mean by “know” and “understand”? They are not concrete enough for measurement. Look at this ILO:

“By the end of the course, students will be able to know how to write a literature review.” (ILO1)

There can be many aspects and levels of “know”, for example:

ILO2: Be able to list the core elements of how to write literature review in APA style.

ILO3: Be able to follow APA style when writing the literature review.

ILO4: Be able to criticise aspects of methodology in literature review.

ILO5: Be able to identify and describe varying opinions on a topic.

ILO6: Be able to compare the varying opinions on a topic, discuss what the different literature argues, and link to ones’ own purpose of review.

ILO1 is not clear enough in terms of what exactly “know” means. ILO2, 4, 5 list three possible aspects of “know”. ILO2 shows a lower level of “know” than ILO3. ILO6 demonstrate a higher level of “know” than ILO5.

For teacher, ILO1 is not helpful when it comes to the assessment. It is not clear what should be measured. Neither can students get enough information about what they are expected to achieve when they read ILO1 in the syllabus.

It would be much more helpful if “know” is described more concretely in a concise and measurable manner, like in ILO2 to ILO6. Educational researchers (Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956; Dave, 1970; Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1973) have provided a lot of options in what kind of action verbs we can use when writing the ILOs. They cover different domains and levels of learning.

Verb pie


Step 3: Read again all the ILOs you write and make final adjustment.

At this stage, check the following for the final adjustment:

Alignment: Make sure there is alignment among lesson ILOs, CILOs and PILOs.

Gap: Examine whether the current list of ILOs have addressed all the achievement areas needed. Decide whether all three learning domains should be included. Fill in the gaps.

Feasibility: Examine whether the current list of ILOs can be achieved regarding students pre-exiting knowledge, time, resources and skills. Prioritize and limit to an achievable numbers.

Comprehensiveness: Ensure students can understand the ILOs.


Bloom, B. S., Englehart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the classification of educational goals – Book I: Cognitive Domain. London: David McKay Company, Inc.

Dave, R. H. (1970). Psychomotor levels. In R.J. Arm- strong (Ed.), Developing and writing educational objectives (pp. 33-34). Tucson AZ: Educational Innovators Press.

Krathwohl, D.R., Bloom, B.S., & Masia, B.B. (1973). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook II: Affective Domain. New York: David McKay Co., Inc.

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