As we previously mentioned, backwards design begins with the end in mind, and learning designers do that by identifying one or more learning outcomes (also known as intended learning outcomes, objectives, learning goals, or other variations of similar language). Identifying what the outcomes of your learning design is one of the key roles of a learning designer. Here are two critical questions that you should ask while designing your learning outcomes:
- What should your learners know or be able to do at the end of the learning experience?
- How will you know when someone has met a learning outcome?
It is important to distinguish between a learning outcome (what a learner should be able to do by the end of the learning experience) and a learning activity (what a learner will do to learn). In other words, your learning outcomes should not be a list of activities. For example, there is a difference between the following statements:
- Learners will design an interactive learning resource (an activity).
- Learners will be able to design effective interactive learning resources (an outcome).
The activity (item #1) could be seen as ‘one and done’ where learners go through the motions of designing a resource and then they have completed a task. But have they learned anything beyond following the steps of a process? The learning outcome adds the idea that a learner will have some degree of competence moving forward (“will be able to”), and the idea that there is a standard that they are expected to achieve (“effective”). Notice also that ‘effectiveness’ presumes that the instructor can measure something, in this case, the instructor can measure whether the learners actually learned something.
Also notice that the verb in the outcome (“design”) is very important. The verb indicates what the learners will be able to “do”. It is an action, and it requires a significant level of cognitive effort. Contrast the action of designing something with the word “understand” which often shows up in learning outcomes. “Understanding” is a word that has a broad meaning and it can be tricky in learning outcomes. Typically, a learning outcome begins with the stem “Learners will be able to…”, but the word “understand” doesn’t really fit with that beginning stem. It wouldn’t make sense to say
- Learners will be able to understand how to design a learning resource.
Instead we want learners to be able to design effective learning resources.
Use the following activity to check your ability to identify learning outcomes.
This activity is not graded.
…a very brief introduction.
Learning designers will often refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is a way to think about different kinds of outcomes. Please take a few minutes to explore this resource about Bloom’s Taxonomy from the University of Arkansas. Please also refer to the excellent before/after revisions link on that page.
As you design your blueprint and learning resource, think about how you can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to design effective learning outcomes.