Common Problems

This section explains the common problems associated with learning outcomes.

Common Problems with Learning Outcomes title slide

Common Problems with Learning Outcomes Verbs

The most common problem with learning outcomes is that they begin with verbs that are not measureable. In order to be able to assess a learning outcome they must specify learning tasks that can be observed and not activities or states that are internal to students’ minds. Potter and Kustra (2012) identify the Sinister Sixteen verbs – verbs that are passive, internal and/or otherwise unobservable – that are very common in learning outcomes and are all unacceptable.

The Sinister Sixteen Verbs
understand know be aware of value
appreciate see be conscious of get
comprehend accept learn apprehend
grasp have knowledge of perceive be familiar with

All of these are internal. In other words, they aren’t public and can’t be observed. You can never really know whether someone understands a concept, because you can’t see into the person’s mind. All we can assess are public behaviours that we are willing to accept as evidence of understanding. We have to use verbs that can be measured. (Please refer to the examples using Bloom’s Taxonomy here for examples of measureable verbs and to the Common Problems Guide found below).

A well-written learning outcome:

  • States clear expectations so that learners know what they have to do to achieve the outcome
  • Is written from the perspective of what the learner does, not what the professor does
  • Begins with an action verb which states ONE performance
  • Can be measured — by an assignment, test, project, exam
  • Never begins with vague verbs such as ‘know’ ‘appreciate’ ‘understand’ and ‘demonstrate’ or any of the sinister sixteen verbs and phrases
  • Has a clear answer to the question – “How will I and the students know that this outcome has been achieved? “
  • Is aligned with the program goals
  • Is free of ambiguous words and phrases
  • Can be achieved within the time frame of the semester/experience/workshop
  • Does not dictate content, teaching activities nor assessment

Common Problems with Learning Outcomes

The common problems associated with learning outcomes are the following:

  • Too vague
  • Too specific
  • Use ambiguous words and phrases
  • Too many learning outcomes
  • Too many verbs in one learning outcome
  • Same (usually vague) verb is repeated
  • Progression is used as a measurement tool
  • Not realistic
  • Learning outcomes that only describe the subject content
  • Learning outcomes that describe the assessment tool
  • Not able to be assessed
  • Not able to be measured
  • Incomplete