Course-Level Learning Outcomes

Course-level learning outcomes are statements that describe knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes that a student should be able to demonstrate after completing a course. While instructors cannot completely control what individual students will (and will not) learn, stating learning outcomes articulates what instructors intend for students to learn.

Traditionally, course syllabi have explained course goals or objectives in terms of the subject matter and topics that the instructor will address: "this course will cover the following topics," "you will be introduced to the theoretical concepts of the field," "we will explore the current controversies," etc. Student learning outcomes are slightly different from course goals and objectives. They are written in detailed, student-centered language and describe the learning that "comes out of" a course and can be observed and assessed, e.g., "students will be able to apply the theoretical concepts to current controversies."

Establishing course-level learning outcomes is important to the educational process for several reasons:

  • Students learn more effectively when they understand course learning outcomes. They not only know the topics that will be covered but what they should know and be able to do as a result of taking the class. This allows students to achieve a deeper level of learning and discourages them from skimming readings and cramming for exams.
  • When students understand what they can expect to know and do at the end of a particular course, they have a better understanding of the entire program curriculum and how their courses fit together.
  • Course-level learning outcomes help instructors design courses by helping them plan course content, appropriate assessments, and instructional strategies.
  • Course-level learning outcomes help students understand their own learning and build metacognitive skills. It helps them articulate what they've learned to parents, employers, etc.

Course-Level Learning Outcomes and Program-Level Learning Outcomes
Nearly all degree-granting programs at The New School have articulated student learning outcomes for the program. Program learning outcomes summarize what should students have learned over an entire curriculum up to the time of graduation. Course-level learning outcomes are more specific, describing learning that takes place in an individual course.

Program learning outcomes and course learning outcomes are, of course, related, since students can achieve program learning outcomes only by learning and practicing them in their courses. For example, a learning goal for the Parsons BFA in Fine Arts states that students who complete the program will be able to use the appropriate visual and conceptual vocabulary to articulate their artwork and the work of others. A sculpture course within the program should support this goal and so might have as a specific course-level goal that "Students should be able to explain their work and critique classmates' work using the visual and conceptual vocabulary of sculpture." In a well-designed and coherent curriculum, each course will have a particular role in introducing, reinforcing, or aiding students in mastering a program goal. Some of the learning outcomes of a course will connect to program-level outcomes, but many courses will also have learning outcomes specific to the course as well.

Course-level learning outcomes should be written in a distinct way so that they are understood by students. Read Writing Course Level Learning Outcomes (PDF) for a one-page summary of how to create well-written learning outcomes for your courses.

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