• Learning outcomes need to be assessable.
  • Learning outcomes should help to sequence learning.
  • The focus of learning expected is communicated through the verb in the learning outcome.
  • Taxonomies of learning can help to write clear Unit Learning Outcomes (ULOs) and Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs).

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Writing Learning Outcomes Taxonomies of Learning

Writing Learning Outcomes

At ACU, writing Learning Outcomes (LOs) starts at the course level. The course has a rationale that justifies its particular focus and its purpose. This aligns with a rationale for each unit in the course. As such, LOs should be based on these rationales and relate to the real-world imperative that the course/unit responds to. The focus should be on the students’ learning and understanding rather than what the teacher intends to teach. Learning Outcomes need to be clearly expressed and indicate the kind of knowledge [declarative knowledge – facts, conceptual knowledge – theory, principles concepts, or procedural or functioning knowledge – cognitive and/or physical skills] and level of performance that the student needs to attain.

LOs should ideally only use one verb. The use of more than one verb could make it more difficult to effectively assess that particular LO. Unit LOs in particular should be behaviourally oriented and assessable, as well as written from the student’s perspective. Course LOs tend to be more general. The following examples show the structure and progression of LOs.

 Structure and progression of learning outcomes

Biggs & Tang (2011) suggest a unit should have a maximum of 4 to 6 LOs. A good way to achieve this is to aim for no more than three LOs. If this proves too difficult, you can allow yourself the luxury of more.

Some things to consider when developing learning outcomes

  • The verb describing the level of learning is the link in constructive alignment; it is tied to learning and teaching activities (LTAs) and assessment tasks (ATs) to ensure the outcome is assessable (Biggs, 2014 p.9).
  • Learning outcomes progress within and across units from low level verbs such as “describe” and “list” to middle level verbs such as “explain” and “analyse” through to higher level verbs such as “hypothesize”, “reflect” and “communicate” (Biggs, 2014, p. 9).
  • For the different verbs, and the level of learning they describe, this progress should be sequenced, so that the same sequence of development of learning can be consistent across learning outcomes, LTAs, and ATs.

Taxonomies of Learning

The depth of learning expected to achieve the learning outcomes is communicated through the verb. Learning should be active, assessable, and sequential, with the expected level of knowledge clearly communicated through the ULOs and CLOs. The verb in the learning outcome communicates to the student what they should be able to do (Biggs & Tang, 2011). Taxonomies of learning can be used to facilitate the writing of clear ULOs and CLOs. Biggs and Collis’ (1982) Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy and Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) are useful for developing clear ULOs and CLOs.

Blooms Revised Taxonomy

Bloom developed his original taxonomy of learning in collaboration with colleagues in 1956. The original Taxonomy consisted of six categories, nearly all with subcategories. They were arranged in a cumulative hierarchical framework; achievement of the next more complex skill or ability required achievement of the prior one. So, for example, a person can’t understand something they know nothing about, they must know about it first. Similarly, a person can’t apply before they understand. This is why learning, and the specification of learning outcomes, learning and teaching activities and assessment tasks, need to be sequenced.

A revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy was published in 2001 (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001). This revised taxonomy reflects a more complex understanding of learning. The revised taxonomy has two dimensions: The cognitive process dimension and the knowledge dimension. The cognitive process dimensions of the revised taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002) use verbs, “action words”, to describe six cognitive processes, see diagram below.

 Blooms Taxonomy Revised

Source: Diagram adapted from Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001

Knowledge dimension of the revised taxonomy contains four types of knowledge:

  • Factual Knowledge
  • Conceptual Knowledge
  • Procedural or Functioning Knowledge
  • Metacognitive Knowledge

The following table summarises the interaction of the two dimensions.

 Cognitive Process and Knowledge Dimensions

Source: Fisher (2005) Oregon State University, cited in Forehand (2011) The University of Georgia

Structure of the Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) Taxonomy

This framework describes the complexity of the structure of learning outcomes that are generally observable across a curriculum. The SOLO taxonomy describes the growth in complexity of performance across various learning tasks that it is typical to observe as a learner progresses through a unit and/or course. Biggs & Collis assert that learning grows along at least two dimensions: (1) the level of abstraction, or mode, in this case for adults; and (2) the cycle of increasing complexity that an adult traverses in their learning.

Unistructural Memorize, identify, recognize, count, define, draw, find, label, match, name, quote, recall, recite, order, tell, write, imitate
Multistructural Classify, describe, list, report, discuss, illustrate, select, narrate, compute, sequence, outline, separate
Relational Apply integrate, analyse, explain, predict, conclude, summarize (précis), review, argue, transfer, make a plan, characterize, compare, contrast, differentiate, organize, debate, make a case, construct, review and rewrite, examine, translate, paraphrase, solve a problem.
Extended abstract Theorize, hypothesize, generalize, reflect, generate, create, compose, invent, originate, prove from first principles, make an original case, solve from first principles

(Biggs & Tang, 2011, p.123)

SOLO Taxonomy with Declarative and Procedural or Functioning Knowledge

Declarative Knowledge Functioning Knowledge
Unistructural Memorize, identify, recite Count, match, order
Multistructural Describe, classify Compute, illustrate
Relational Compare and contrast, explain, argue, analyse Apply construct, translate, solve near problem, predict within same domain
Extended abstract Theorize, hypothesize, generalize Reflect and improve, invent, create, solve unseen problems, extrapolate to unknown domains

(Biggs & Tang, 2011, p. 124)

Other resources

Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Biggs, J. (2014). Constructive alignment in university teaching. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1, 5-22.

Biggs, J. B., & Collis, K. F. (1982). Evaluation the quality of learning: the SOLO taxonomy (structure of the observed learning outcome). Academic Press.

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University 4th Edn. McGraw-Hill Berkshire.

Forehand, M. (2011). Bloom’s Taxonomy: Original and Revised. In M. Orey (Ed.) Emerging perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Technology. Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/59/BloomsTaxonomy-mary-forehand.pdf

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom's taxonomy: An overview. Theory into practice, 41(4), 212-218.

Krathwohl, D. R. (1994). Reflections on the taxonomy: Its past, present, and future. In L. W. Anderson & L. A. Sosniak (Eds.), Bloom’s taxonomy: A forty-year retrospective. Ninety-third yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part II (pp. 181–202). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Learning Futures. (2020). Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. Retrieved from https://app.secure.griffith.edu.au/exlnt/entry/8408/view

Page last updated on 21/12/2021

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