What is a learning outcome? And why do we use them?

As an ADQE Officer I support course validations, both internally and externally, and attend Curriculum Development Approval Sub-committee (CDASC). At these events a significant amount of time is spent ensuring the course and module learning outcomes are aligned to FHEQ qualification descriptors (2014). Typically, requests for amendments to the learning outcomes are made and course teams update learning outcomes accordingly.

For some, learning outcomes are challenging, perplexing and difficult to understand…some even see learning outcomes as an administrative device. However, this is certainly not the case. Learning outcomes support and guide good learning and teaching. They clarify the course or module team’s thinking about what they are aiming to achieve, outlining what is taught and how.

So what is a learning outcome? 

The QAA UK Quality Code for HE Part A: Setting and Maintaining Academic Standards (2014) defines learning outcomes as a:

‘Statement of what a learner is expected to know, understand and/or be able to demonstrate after completion of a designated programme of study (which leads to a qualification).’

In non-quality assurance terms, learning outcomes describe what a student should be able to do to successfully complete a course of study. For example:

‘By the end of the course you should be able to… analyse risks to computers and computer systems, and recommend, develop, implement and review effectiveness of appropriate safeguards in a variety of contexts.’

Module learning outcomes are more specific, offering a short guide for students on where the module will take them. For example:

‘By the end of the module you should be able to… advise parties to a case involving the sale of land of their rights and obligations, and justify your advice by reference to relevant statutes and cases.’

What is the purpose of learning outcomes?

Learning outcomes are incredibly important as they make it clear to both students and staff the expectations for the learner’s development and how the outcomes will be assessed.

Learning outcomes are also vital as they:

  • tell students what is important;
  • enable good assessment development;
  • encourage reflection and good course design and development; and
  • drive learning.

How can I devise effective learning outcomes?

Phil Race, Making Learning Outcomes Work, argues that effective learning outcomes should answer the following eight questions:

  • Who do these outcomes belong to? Not just ‘students’, please! It’s me we’re talking about. Please refer to me as ‘you’ when explaining the learning outcomes.
  • What am I supposed to become able to do? (i.e. what evidence am I working towards providing?).
  • How is my evidence of achievement going to be assessed?
  • Why is this important? Why is it worth me putting time, energy and intellect into working on this?
  • When am I going to need to produce the necessary evidence? Along the journey of my learning, or just at the end of the journey?
  • Where is my evidence going to be assessed? In the lab? In the classroom? In the field? In the seminar? In the exam room? In the work placement?
  • So what? What happens if I don’t provide evidence of my achievement of the outcomes? What happens if I don’t achieve them? Does it matter? If it’s important enough, it should matter. Is it?
  • Wow! What’s the ‘wow’ factor about this course? Why am I doing it instead of some other course? What’s the ‘wow’ factor about how this subject is taught here? Why am I here and not somewhere else? What’s the ‘wow’ factor that this course has that isn’t anywhere else?

Do your learning outcomes answer these questions?

It would be unrealistic for every learning outcome to address all eight questions, but, at a minimum, learning outcomes should answer the ‘what’s’ and ‘how?’ in each outcome and the rest of the questions should be clear to students.

Ultimately learning outcomes should be:

  • Active – it describes what students can do.
  • Attractive – students want to achieve it.
  • Comprehensible – students know what it means.
  • Appropriate – to the student’s current goals and career plans.
  • Attainable – most students will mostly meet it, with due effort.
  • Assessable – we can see if it has been achieved.
  • Visible – in the course booklet and on the VLE.

Resources on Learning Outcomes:

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Posted in Curriculum

The Mathematics Winter Intersession Week

For this post, we are handing over to our first guest blogger, Nicos Georgiou from the Department of Mathematics.

Nicos won three teaching awards and went on to receive a Teaching Innovation Prize in 2015 to fund a project in the Intersession Week for second-year students in Mathematics. 

After the second year of Nicos’ Intersession Week activities, we asked Nicos if he would blog about how it went.

Take it away, Nicos:


The organisation of the Mathematics Winter Intersession Week was successful for a second year in a row. Maths faculty and associate tutors joined forces to lead a variety of workshops which cater to the needs of the Maths students. Read more ›

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Posted in Enhancement, Guest

Winner of 2016/17 Partnership Tutor Fund

Prabha Parthasarthy, Study Group Partnership Tutor Life Sciences, was awarded part of the 2016/17 Partnership Tutor fund for a networking event between students at the International Study Centre, former students at the International Study Centre, and students studying a Life Science course at the University of Sussex. The event will provide International Study Centre students a taster into life as a student at the University. The networking event is due to take place on 31 March 2017.

The Partnership Tutor fund was launched in 2015. The fund is awarded for activities relating to student engagement. For example, bringing students at partner institutions to the University to attend lectures, seminars, and workshops.

The Partnership Tutor Fund was re-launched in 2016/17 and tutors can apply for the fund.

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Posted in Partnerships

Winner of the 2015/16 Partnership Tutor Fund

Flora Dennis, Partnership Tutor West Dean College, won the 2015/16 Partnership Tutor Fund. Flora was awarded the fund to organise an exchange day at West Dean College for MA Conservation Students at West Dean and MA Art History and MA Museum Curating Students at the University.

Flora said ‘as a result of the Partnership Tutor fund we were able to organise an exchange day at West Dean College for MA Conservation Students at West Dean and MA Art History and MA Museum Curating students at the University of Sussex. The day was based on West Dean’s collections and prepared students to move beyond postgraduate study into a range of professional workplaces such as museums, galleries, historic buildings and the cultural and heritage sector’.

The Partnership Tutor fund was launched in 2015. The fund is awarded for activities relating to student engagement. For example, bringing students at partner institutions to the University to attend lectures, seminars, and workshops.

The Partnership Tutor Fund was re-launched for 2016/17 and tutors can apply for the fund.

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The new Teaching and Learning Toolkit

February saw the launch of Sussex’s new Teaching and Learning Toolkit, a new Study Direct site designed to bring together resources, research and ideas for people teaching at Sussex. As ADQE’s very own Teaching Fellow, I’ve co-ordinated putting the Toolkit together in response to requests and feedback from across the University. Read more ›

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Posted in TaLES

External Examiner Induction 2016/17

What’s the External Examiner Induction then?

Each year, the University employs around 80 external academics from other institutions. It is the role of these external academics to check that the University’s standards of teaching and assessment are upheld, and the awards given to students are appropriate. You can read more about the role of External Examiners on the ADQE webpages.

In order to ensure that the External Examiners are fully aware of their role, and the rules and processes which guide our exams and assessments, the University provides Induction sessions for all of our External Examiners.

Read more ›

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Posted in Standards

Internal Student Surveys at Sussex

The University carries out internal surveys of students to measure their satisfaction with their courses, any common issues with key themes across the University, and to give all students the opportunity to make their opinion heard. This blog post outlines some of the changes to internal surveys at Sussex over the past few years, and details the new system of internal surveys launching this year.

Read more ›

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Posted in Enhancement, Uncategorised

2015/16 Student-Led Teaching Awards

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The University has several awards for staff which we offer annually.

We get a huge kick out of hearing about the fantastic work that our staff do, and enjoy being able to show students’ and staff appreciation of their efforts.

This post outlines one of these awards and gives some highlights from the Student-Led Teaching Awards in recent years.

 

Read more ›

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Posted in Enhancement

Resources for Examinations and Assessments

This post highlights some of the resources available relating to examinations and assessment.

The ADQE Academic Standards webpages provide the complete set of resources for 2016/17.

Read more ›

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Posted in Standards

2015/16 Validations

Every year the University validates a number of new courses. For those that are unclear on what ‘validates’ means, in this context it is where the University scrutinizes a proposed new course and decides whether or not to approve it.
Unsurprisingly validations take place at validation events and these are organised by ADQE. The events are attended by a panel and the course team. The event usually lasts four hours.

Read more ›

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Posted in Curriculum

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