Learning Outcomes Tutorial

You might be familiar with Dr. Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor of engineering diagnosed with terminal cancer who gained fame for his “Last Lecture”.  The lecture, which can be found on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo, focuses on the idea of “head fake learning” – the idea that while you ask students to do some activity you’re really trying to get them to take away a particular outcome.  A parent doesn’t send their kids out to play football to learn a good three-point stance – they send them out to learn sportsmanship, teamwork, perseverance, for the health benefits, and perhaps other outcomes.  This “head fake learning” approach is true for Student Affairs as well.

Sometimes, Student Affairs professionals get caught up in offering programs that have good “face validity” – they appear on the surface to accomplish the department’s general mission.  Sometimes, we feel we need to offer a laundry list of programs to prove that we are productive, a valuable department, or to “offer something for everyone”.  The problem is that unless we know what we want to accomplish – unless we know how we want our students to be different as a result of their experience with our institution and their interaction with us – it’s impossible to tell if our programs are productive, valuable, or offering something for anyone.  We need to remember to check our “head fake” – whether you’re hosting a Hispanic History Month, Health Fair, Frosh Camp, Spin class, Conquering Depression group, Commuter Student lounge, Tutoring program, Judicial counseling, RA training, Resume workshop, or Assistive Device orientation, you need to know what you want students to take away – you need to start with learning outcomes.

 What are Learning Outcomes?

  • Learning outcomes are transferable, life-long skills
  • They measure the effectiveness of the learning environment, NOT the student

What is learning?

  • From Keeling & Assoc (March, 2008), “Student Learning Outcomes”, Presented at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), Boston, MA

Learning is the construction of knowledge by the individual, mediated by the context, the social environment, and the prior knowledge of the learning.

  • From University of Memphis Student Affairs:

Student Learning is a continual process of obtaining skills and knowledge that students can integrate and apply in ways that enhance their ability to achieve success and satisfaction in their lives.

The learner matters therefore all Student Affairs professionals are educators:
From Keeling & Assoc (March, 2008), “Student Learning Outcomes”, Presented at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), Boston, MA

You must take the learner into consideration when forming learning outcomes:

  • You must use a developmental view of students’ learning potential, for example, account for stages of brain growth and maturation
  • You must take the learner’s life patterns into consideration, for example is learning being impeded by a lack of sleep, too much exercise, alcohol, etc
  • Behavioral and emotional problems affect learning

For these reasons and more, all Student Affairs services support learning.  For example, psychologists work for the institution, not to provide great treatment, but to enable learning for the benefit of the institution; to minimize barriers to learning.  The whole campus is a learning community.

There are different levels of outcomes:

  • Institutional
  • Divisional
  • Departmental
  • Program

Format for writing a student learning outcome:

  • From Keeling & Assoc (March, 2008), “Student Learning Outcomes”, Presented at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), Boston, MA

    CLICK HERE for Learning Outcomes Examples.
  • There are many “verb charts” available on-line to help you identify observable, measurable verbs to use in student learning objectives.  Below is one such chart:


Action verbs


Apply, Chart, Define, Demonstrate, Describe, Discuss, Explain, Identify, Label, List, Memorize, Recall, Show

Higher Order Thinking Skills

Analyze, Assess, Compare, Create, Diagram, Design, Differentiate, Infer, Plan, Research, Summarize, Synthesize

Psychomotor Skills

Apply, Assemble, Change, Construct, Demonstrate, Display, Manipulate, Operate, Perform, Show, Use

Attitude, Values

Act, Adhere, Approve, Believe, Comply, Enjoy, Persuade, Practice, Respect