Structure of Intended Learning Outcomes [15]

Handout: Structure of ILOs


Now is a good time to look back at the existing ILOs that you have to hand. How closely do they align with what a well-structured intended learning outcome should be? Spend a few minutes reviewing your existing ILOs.


I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have jumped straight to this particular lesson, and that’s understandable, but congratulations to those of you who have diligently worked through the course to get here. 

It’s quite self-evident that a well-structured outcome should have three parts, a verb, a subject, and a context.

All the literature will tell you that. They will argue a little bit about what constitutes an active verb, what constitutes a subject and the nature of the context. And even in some cases, whether the context is necessary, I think they are.

I’d like to just look from a student’s perspective, the kinds of questions that students will ask of outcomes. Because historically academics, and course writers, haven’t really paid that much attention to course outcomes and programme outcomes. students likewise have not paid attention to them. But I think they are increasingly starting to matter to students. So the kinds of questions that a student is going to ask when they read the outcomes, is they’re going to ask of cognitive and intellectual skills, “how will this outcome help me to manage increasingly complex thought processes?”

If they’re looking at an effective outcome, they’re gonna ask how they’re going to measure the appropriateness of emotional and ethical responses. If it’s a metacognitive outcome, they’re likely to be looking to try and establish how their perspectives have changed. If it’s a psychomotor outcome, they’re going to ask whether or not the use of the tools that they’re being asked to deploy, is effective or not.

And in an interpersonal domain question, which is the most complex, because there are four elements to it. They’re going to ask how well am I engaging with others? It’s useful I think to have those questions in mind, when you write your outcomes because you are writing outcomes for the student. Verb, subject and context, but it has to be written for the student at the beginning of their course of study.

 Let’s now explore the structure of intended learning outcomes. They should always have an active verb that will define what the student will be able to do when they’ve completed the course or programme. They will always have a subject that defines the nature of the learning that is going to be evidenced. And then a context for that learning.

Now, all of these outcomes are drawn from tertiary level programmes, but you can easily adapt the language to your own level if you are teaching at K-12. It’s really important to remember that the structure will always remain the same. There will always be a single active verb, a subject and a context. And I’m going to explore later in the course, some of the things you need to avoid to avoid writing poor outcomes.

So let’s look at some examples. This first one is a cognitive outcome. It’s an intellectual skill. It says to “critique a contemporary regulatory framework in the financial services industry”. Now, there are a couple of things that are worth mentioning. The first is that the nature of the subject, ‘a contemporary regulatory framework’ is broad enough to encompass whatever it is you want to teach within this particular discipline. This is actually obviously a financial services, core business course, but it’s not so specific that it wouldn’t allow for changes to legislation, to regulations. To name specific regulations in your outcome, just means that if it was to change, some external factor, you would have to compensate, and you would have to rewrite your outcomes. So it’s about being sufficiently precise, but also sufficiently broad. 

The same thing is true of the context. Here I’m defining the financial services industry. I haven’t specified that it’s insurance or banking. I don’t have to. The context of the course written into the course aims will have covered that already.

Let’s look at another example, this is an affective outcome to “contribute to the clearly articulated reflections in response to a professional ethical challenge”. Again, I haven’t overly specified the nature of the ethical challenge. I haven’t overly specified what reflections I’m expecting. It’s broad enough for me to assess that particular outcome in different ways when I come to the end of the course, and as we’ll see later, It means if you’ve written a very good outcome, you’ll find that it’s much easier to vary your assessment as you go through, which then avoids dangers around plagiarism and other things.

Just look at these next three and see if you can work out, you may want to pause the video, and just work out whether or not you are comfortable with the structure of these outcomes. And if you can see whether they are sufficiently broad or sufficiently specific.

Now one way of knowing whether you have structured your outcomes well, that you have clearly defined an active verb, a subject, and a context, is whether you can backwards engineer your own outcomes.

It’s possible to look at the context of the learning ,then to think about the subject, and then think about the verb. So I’m just gonna give you a couple of examples. Then I’m going to leave you to think about the remaining ones. If I start thinking about a course, that’s about the financial service industry and I’m going to want students to be able to work through particular regulations and then I’m going to want them to critique them. That’s a logical process. And then I can explain that to the student. If I’m asked to explain what the outcome means, I can explain it backwards and it still makes complete sense. 

Give you another example. If I’m going to talk to the students that in this particular course, we’re going to explore a range of professional, ethical challenges, they will be asked when it comes to assessment, to be able to articulate those reflections, and I’m going to want them to be able to then contribute that. I’m not suggesting at the moment that I’m going to ask them to contribute that verbally or in writing or some other form. I haven’t overly specified the nature of that contribution, but I’m giving them very clear ideas as to the kind of evidence that they would be expected to develop through the course.

Same with this particular metacognitive outcome that you’ve just seen. If you look at it, you can see it backwards. Engineered, from context to subject to active verb. And the same is true of the next two. So useful exercise to just self-evaluate how well structured your outcomes actually are.

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