Assessment Basics: How To Write Clear Outcomes

February 8, 2021 Nikki Kowbel

Outcomes help higher education institutions track and measure student progress as they move through courses or programs of study. At the most fundamental level, an outcome states what you want to achieve and how you’ll know when you get there. While academic outcomes define expected behavior or knowledge that a student will demonstrate after they complete a course or program, non-academic outcomes focus on skills and accomplishments outside of student learning.

Writing outcomes can be more difficult than you think. Here are some tips to help you create outcomes that make it easy to track progress.

A good outcome is SMART:

  • Specific. Be clear about what you want students to accomplish. Each outcome should focus on only one idea or expected behavior.
  • Measurable. What metrics will you use to determine whether the outcome is met? Be objective: Students either do or do not exhibit the skill.
  • Achievable. The outcome should be motivational - be sure it is attainable for students in the course or program.
  • Realistic. Be sure the outcome aligns with the student or institution’s broader goals and objectives.
  • Time-bound. Provide a target date or timeline so that you can track progress throughout the process.

But why not take your institution’s outcomes from good to great? As you draft your outcomes, try to make them:

  • Active. Action-oriented verbs make the assessment process more dynamic and keep your team focused on forward motion.
  • Future-focused. Think about what will be different after the learning experience and build that into your outcome.
  • Tied to Bloom’s Taxonomy. When you write outcomes to align with the levels of knowledge-based, skills-based, or affective taxonomies, it is much easier to determine which assessment techniques are most appropriate for measurements.
  • Linked to your institutional mission. Outcomes should tie back to what your institution is striving to achieve - if students achieve them, everyone will be better off.

Need guidance in writing great outcomes? Check out the recording of Assessment Basics #1: Developing Quality Outcomes & Objectives.

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