What are learning outcomes?

A Learning Outcome may be described as a statement of what a learner is expected to know, understand and be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning. Learning outcomes may be written for a single module or programme component, for a complete specific programme, for a qualification level, or anything in between. Learning outcomes are often divided into subject specific learning outcomes, which are related to the subject discipline, and generic learning outcomes, which are transferable from one academic discipline to another.

In practice, the expression ‘learning outcome’ is also widely used in a more general sense to indicate the overall output of a programme, rather than in the narrow sense of a technical statement as described here.

Use of learning outcomes

Various systems for writing learning outcomes are being used or are being developed. Learning outcomes are playing an increasingly important role in the development of national and overarching qualifications frameworks (for more information, see chapter ‎7: “Qualifications Frameworks”). For instance, generic learning outcomes are linked to the cycles or levels of the overarching EHEA-QF and EQF. National qualifications frameworks make use of qualification descriptors (learning outcomes used as generic descriptions of the various types of qualifications), level descriptors (learning outcomes used as generic descriptions of the various levels) or national subject benchmark statements (learning outcomes describing the subject-specific characteristics and standards of programmes).

For the purpose of writing learning outcomes for a particular programme, an important development is the methodology adopted by the higher education institutions that are involved in the Tuning Process. Within the Tuning Process, a template for a Degree Profile has been designed, which contains a number of sections in which the programme is described in terms of outcomes. One of these sections is a list of learning outcomes at programme level.

Learning outcomes at programme level have various uses:

  • they are important for academic staff in designing study programmes, since they provide clear goals that the programme should aim for;
  • they are useful for prospective students, as they provide transparent information on what students may expect to learn from a particular study programme;
  • after obtaining a qualification, graduates will be able to provide relevant information to employers and competent recognition authorities on their abilities.

Learning outcomes in the recognition process

If learning outcomes are taken into account in the evaluation of a foreign qualification, the recognition procedure may be more directly focused on the outcomes reached and competences obtained, instead of only relying on the input criteria of the programme such as workload and contents. The principal question asked of the graduate will no longer be “what did you do to obtain your qualification?” but rather “what can you do, now that you have obtained your qualification?”