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Outcomes Assessment

Writing Intended Student Learning Outcomes Statements

Learn how to write clear and effective statements of intended student learning outcomes for business programs.

> Writing Clear and Effective Statements of Intended Student Learning Outcomes

Intended OutcomesWhat are Intended Student Learning Outcomes?

Intended student learning outcomes are statements that describe the desired learning that students should have acquired and should be able to demonstrate at the end of a program of study. They identify what students should know and be able to do as a result of completing their particular degree programs. Consequently, statements of intended learning outcomes should clearly articulate the intended knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies that characterize the essential learning required of a graduate of a program of study.

Outcomes AssessmentHow to Write Intended Student Learning Outcomes

Statements of intended student learning outcomes contain a verb (an action) and an object of that action, and bring together the “Cognitive Process Dimension” and the “Knowledge Dimension” comprising the cognitive domain in the revised Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives:

  • The verb specifies an observable and measurable action on the part of the student that is associated with the intended cognitive process (an action associated with the intended cognitive level of learning in the “Cognitive Process Dimension” in the revised Bloom’s taxonomy).
  • The object describes the knowledge that students are expected to acquire or construct (a type of knowledge in the “Knowledge Dimension” in the revised Bloom’s taxonomy).

In addition, statements of intended student learning outcomes may also include criteria for acceptable performance and/or other modifiers of the action or object of the action.

Consequently, in writing intended student learning outcomes, it may be useful to begin each learning outcome statement with “Students will be able to...,” followed by an appropriate verb relating to the desired action or performance associated with the intended cognitive level (e.g., using Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives), and ending with the object of the statement describing the business or business-related learning or knowledge that students are expected to acquire or construct through the action or performance. In addition, learning outcomes statements may also include modifiers that specify standards, conditions, or criteria for acceptable performance or that further clarify or elaborate on the targeted business or business-related learning.

Note: The verb that is chosen for intended learning outcomes statements will help to focus on exactly what is to be assessed and to identify the appropriate tools, instruments, and metrics that can be used to assess the extent of the intended learning.

General Structure of Intended Student Learning Outcomes

Alternative formats for intended learning outcomes statements:

  1. Students will be able to... + verb (desired action or performance) + object (business or business-related knowledge) + optional modifiers (performance criteria/conditions or targeted learning descriptors).
  2. Students will be able to... + verb (desired action or performance) + optional modifiers (performance criteria/conditions or targeted learning descriptors) + object (business or business-related knowledge).

Examples of Intended Student Learning Outcomes

Example 1:

Students will be able to define the four P’s of marketing.

In this example:

  • We begin with the suggested phrase “Students will be able to...”
  • Verb = define
  • Bloom Cognitive Level = remembering
  • Object/Knowledge = the four P’s of marketing
  • Bloom Knowledge Dimension = factual knowledge
  • Modifiers = none

Example 2:

Students will be able to explain the principal concepts and theories in the functional areas of business.

In this example:

  • We begin with the suggested phrase “Students will be able to...”
  • Verb = explain
  • Bloom Cognitive Level = understanding
  • Object/Knowledge = principal concepts and theories in the functional areas of business
  • Bloom Knowledge Dimension = conceptual knowledge
  • Modifiers = principal

Example 3:

Students will be able to appraise legal, ethical, and CSR issues in business leadership decisions.

In this example:

  • We begin with the suggested phrase “Students will be able to...”
  • Verb = appraise
  • Bloom Cognitive Level = evaluating
  • Object/Knowledge = legal, ethical, and CSR issues
  • Bloom Knowledge Dimension = conceptual knowledge
  • Modifiers = in business leadership decisions

Example 4:

Students will be able to formulate innovative management strategies using a triple-bottom-line approach.

In this example:

  • We begin with the suggested phrase “Students will be able to...”
  • Verb = formulate
  • Bloom Cognitive Level = creating
  • Object/Knowledge = management strategies
  • Bloom Knowledge Dimension = conceptual knowledge
  • Modifiers = innovative; using a triple-bottom-line approach

Example 5:

Students will be able to assess the intercultural dimensions of management in the context of strategic planning.

In this example:

  • We begin with the suggested phrase “Students will be able to...”
  • Verb = assess
  • Bloom Cognitive Level = evaluating
  • Object/Knowledge = the intercultural dimensions of management
  • Bloom Knowledge Dimension = conceptual knowledge
  • Modifiers = in the context of strategic planning

Example 6:

Students will be able to employ appropriate statistical and quantitative methods in business decision making.

In this example:

  • We begin with the suggested phrase “Students will be able to...”
  • Verb = employ
  • Bloom Cognitive Level = applying
  • Object/Knowledge = statistical and quantitative methods
  • Bloom Knowledge Dimension = procedural knowledge
  • Modifiers = appropriate; in business decision making

Example 7:

Students will be able to interpret business intelligence information for the purpose of strategic analysis.

In this example:

  • We begin with the suggested phrase “Students will be able to...”
  • Verb = interpret
  • Bloom Cognitive Level = analyzing
  • Object/Knowledge = business intelligence information
  • Bloom Knowledge Dimension = conceptual knowledge
  • Modifiers = for the purpose of strategic analysis

Example 8:

Students will be able to solve unstructured business decision-making problems.

In this example:

  • We begin with the suggested phrase “Students will be able to...”
  • Verb = solve
  • Bloom Cognitive Level = applying
  • Object/Knowledge = business decision-making problems
  • Bloom Knowledge Dimension = conceptual knowledge
  • Modifiers = unstructured

Example 9:

Students will be able to integrate theory and practice across the business functional areas for the purpose of managing organizational problems and challenges.

In this example:

  • We begin with the suggested phrase “Students will be able to...”
  • Verb = integrate
  • Bloom Cognitive Level = analyzing
  • Object/Knowledge = theory and practice across the business functional areas
  • Bloom Knowledge Dimension = conceptual knowledge
  • Modifiers = for the purpose of managing organizational problems and challenges

Example 10:

Students will be able to conduct appropriate literature reviews for the purpose of designing research studies.

In this example:

  • We begin with the suggested phrase “Students will be able to...”
  • Verb = conduct
  • Bloom Cognitive Level = applying
  • Object/Knowledge = literature reviews
  • Bloom Knowledge Dimension = procedural knowledge
  • Modifiers = appropriate; for the purpose of designing research studies

Verbs to Avoid in Writing Intended Student Learning Outcomes Statements

In order for intended learning outcomes to provide a useful basis for developing appropriate measures and instruments for assessing student learning, they must contain verbs that describe observable, measurable, and achievable actions and performance levels. Consequently, verbs that represent actions or concepts that are difficult or impossible to measure should be avoided. For example, the following verbs should not be used in writing intended student learning outcomes:

  • Appreciate
  • Be aware of
  • Be familiar with
  • Believe
  • Comprehend
  • Know
  • Learn
  • Understand

As an example, consider the following intended student learning outcome: Students will be able to understand the economic environment of business.

The verb in this statement – understand – is problematic because it is not observable and cannot be measured. How does one measure a student’s ‘understanding’? What we need to ask is this: What type of action or performance would students have to demonstrate in order to provide evidence of their ‘understanding’ of the economic environment of business?

What is needed here is to replace ‘understand’ with a verb that results in an action or performance that can be observed and measured. For example, the following modification results in an intended learning outcome statement that is capable of being measured: Students will be able to analyze the impacts of the economic environment on business.

Although the verbs listed above should not be used when writing intended student learning outcomes, they are appropriate for use in writing broad-based student learning goals as defined by the IACBE. As discussed in Goals, Outcomes, and Objectives on this website, broad-based student learning goals are generally too broadly stated in order to be measurable in and of themselves. Therefore, intended learning outcomes are articulated in order to make the goals specific and to describe what the goals actually mean. Consequently, terms like ‘appreciate,’ ‘comprehend,’ ‘know,’ and ‘understand,’ etc. can be used in writing broad-based student learning goals inasmuch as it is not the goals but the intended learning outcomes that are being directly measured through the assessment process.

For information on appropriate action verbs for writing intended student learning outcomes statements, see Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.

Characteristics of Good Intended Student Learning Outcomes

Statements of intended student learning outcomes should:

  • specify the level, criteria, or standards for the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies that students are expected to be able to demonstrate.
  • include conditions under which students should be able to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, abilities, or competencies .
  • contain active verbs.
  • be measurable.
  • be expressed in ways that make them capable of being measured by more than one assessment tool, instrument, or metric.

Guidelines for Writing Intended Student Learning Outcomes Statements

In writing statements of intended student learning outcomes, an academic business should ensure that its statements:

  • are aligned with the academic business unit’s mission and broad-based student learning goals.
  • clearly describe the type and level of learning that are expected of graduates of the business programs, i.e., they should specify (i) the areas/fields that will be the focus of assessment, (ii) the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies that students are expected to acquire in those areas/fields upon completion of their programs of study, (iii) the depth of the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies that students are expected to demonstrate.
  • are distinct and specific.
  • are expressed in terms of the overall program and not individual courses.
  • are simple declarative statements that are capable of being assessed by a single assessment method, i.e., they should not be complex statements that combine multiple intended outcomes into a single statement requiring the use of multiple assessment methods.
    (Example of a Complex or Combined Statement: Students will be able to recognize and solve complex business problems and effectively communicate the solutions in oral business presentations to professional audiences. This statement would require two different assessment measures since the instrument required for assessing a student’s ability to recognize and solve problems would be different than the instrument needed for assessing oral communication skills.)
  • are expressed in ways that make them capable of being assessed by more than one assessment tool, instrument, or metric, i.e., they should not impose restrictions on the number or type of assessment methods that can be used to measure the extent to which students are achieving the desired outcomes.
  • are expressed from the students’ perspective and not in terms of what the academic business unit will do, will provide, or intends to accomplish.
Checklist

Checklist for Writing Intended Student Learning Outcomes

The following table provides a checklist for academic business units to use in writing clear and effective statements of intended student learning outcomes for their business programs.

Checklist for Writing Intended Student Learning Outcomes
Item Yes No
Do the statements specify the level, criteria, or standards for the knowledge, skills, abilities, or competencies that students are expected to be able to demonstrate?
Do the statements include conditions under which students should be able to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, abilities, or competencies?
Are the statements written using active verbs that specify definite, observable behaviors or performance levels?
Are the statements measurable?
Are the intended student learning outcomes distinct and specific to the business programs?
Are the intended student learning outcomes aligned with the academic business unit’s mission and broad-based student learning goals?
Do the statements specify (i) the areas/fields that will be the focus of assessment, (ii) the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies that students are expected to acquire in those areas/fields upon completion of their programs of study, (iii) the depth of the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies that students are expected to demonstrate?
Are the intended student learning outcomes expressed in terms of the overall program and not individual courses?
Are the statements simple declarative statements that are capable of being assessed by a single assessment method, i.e., are they expressed in ways that do not combine multiple intended outcomes into a single statement requiring the use of multiple assessment methods?
Are the statements expressed in ways that make them capable of being assessed by more than one assessment tool, instrument, or metric?
Are the statements expressed from the students’ perspective and not in terms of what the academic business unit will do, will provide, or intends to accomplish?
Is it possible to collect accurate and reliable assessment data for each intended learning outcome?
Can the statements be used to identify areas for changes and improvements?
Considered together, do the intended student learning outcomes accurately reflect the key desired learning results for each of the academic business unit’s programs?

If your response to any question in the checklist is ‘No,‘ then you will need to review your intended student learning outcomes and revise them accordingly.

Note: This checklist is available for download as a pdf file here: Checklist for Writing Intended Student Learning Outcomes Statements (PDF)

Outcomes AssessmentWhy Develop Intended Student Learning Outcomes?

There are numerous benefits to academic business units, faculty members, and students of developing a set of clear and effective statements of intended student learning outcomes.

Benefits for Academic Business Units

Intended student learning outcomes statements help to:

  • inform program and curriculum design.
  • identify areas for changes and improvements in curriculum, pedagogy, academic support services, etc.

Benefits for Faculty

Intended student learning outcomes statements help to:

  • inform course content.
  • develop teaching methodologies.
  • identify learning activities and tasks.
  • develop appropriate assessment tools and instruments.

Benefits for Students

Intended student learning outcomes statements help to:

  • provide a framework for guiding their studies.
  • inform students of what is expected of them in their programs of study.
  • prepare them for assessment.

For more information on the IACBE’s requirements pertaining to intended learning outcomes and student learning assessment, see Key Content Areas of an Outcomes Assessment Plan and Student Learning Assessment Measures.

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