Finding Common Ground: The Language of Learning Outcomes  

Finding Common Ground: The Language of Learning Outcomes   

by Jennifer Radley

I recently participated in a webinar which explored the importance of terminology and the value of creating a common language when designing and assessing learning outcomes.

Writing learning outcomes in a consistent manner is very important a skill that can be developed over time. Our students will spend less time trying to understand the question and more time focusing on their answer! The webinar showcased the “anatomy of a learning outcome”:

A verb that specifies the quality of learning that’s expected. (The interaction you want students to have with your program.)

The disciplinary context. (What you want your students to engage with.)

A purpose for the learning. (Why you want your students to learn what you are teaching.)


To start defining your outcomes, try using the following three buckets:

1.  Critical thinking

  • Explains issue or problem
  • Selects and uses information
  • Adopts a specific position in arguments
  • Analyzes own and others’ assumptions
  • Evaluates implications and consequences of conclusions

2.  Problem Solving

  • Constructs a problem statement
  • Identifies contextual approaches
  • Proposes relevant solutions
  • Evaluates potential solutions
  • Implements solution in appropriate manner
  • Evaluates solution, addresses shortcomings

3. Creative Thinking

  • Acquires create competencies
  • Incorporates new or risky approaches
  • Selects from alternatives to solve problems
  • Integrates divergent perspectives
  • Creates novel idea or product
  • Transforms ideas into new forms


What I found most useful is that there are some very helpful verbs listed above, none of which are included on “The Sinister Sixteen”  list!

Common language facilitates communications more clearly. It provides consistency in defining learning. It helps ensure coherence among program elements, especially assessment. Most importantly, it provides students with a way to organize their thinking about learning; providing a way of learning how to learn!

The field of learning outcomes is a research priority for Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. Learn more at


Jennifer Radley is the Manager of Housing Services and a member of the Learning Outcomes and Assessment Committee

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