Proposal Elements:
Bridging the Gap - Learner Outcomes

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Learner Outcomes:

When dealing with learner outcomes, two questions usually surface: "Why have learner outcomes?" and "What makes a 'good' learner outcome?"

Why have learner outcomes?

The learners need to have a clear understanding of what is to be learned and how it will take place or they will lose interest and motivation. If learners see their experience as one "devised by others," they will tend to view it as trivial and irrelevant, or in their thinking, "a waste of time."

  1. To fulfill the need of learners for making sense of the tasks presented to them.
  2. To set the time frame for what can be learned by when.
  3. To help the teacher realize and maintain the tie between a classroom activity and its related outcome.
  4. To help the teacher and/or student assess the learning which occurs.

What makes a "good" learner outcome?

Learner outcomes should specify student behaviors we want at a particular developmental point. As such, they need to be put into terms of what the learner should know and/or be able to do as a direct result of participating in the activity and they should be measurable. A well-formed outcome is then able to provide the basis for creating worthwhile learning experiences, for setting appropriate expectations, and for assessing the extent of learning attained. These measurable learner outcomes should be part of the student assessment rubric and should reflect not only student behaviors relating to skills and processes, but also content. In other words, if the project is about biology, there should be outcomes along with matching assessments dealing with biology. Remember that there may be a number of items on the rubric which will assess one learner outcome and there may be a number of outcomes needed for each project goal.

An area in which many writers of learner outcomes fall down is in the choice of an appropriate action word. Good action words for learner outcomes include: explain, identify, compare, predict, or demonstrate (as in skill attainment). A word to avoid would be one such as "understand" since it can't be specifically measured. In this case, using a word such as "explain" or "list" would prove a much better choice for an appropriately measurable action word. Another pitfall for writers of learner outcomes is not creating complete outcomes. An example of this would be as follows where the first outcome is lacking a criteria to measure:

Learners will identify the position of an object in the sky.

This can be changed to an effective learner outcome by the addition of a clarifying statement at the end as follows:

Learners will identify the position of an object in the sky by describing its location relative to another object or the background.

Here are more examples of learner outcomes with poorly written ones appearing on the left and the same ones with a little reshaping appearing as well-written learner outcomes on the right. Read through them and see if you can determine why each poorly written item is just that, "poorly written" or "poorly developed." Following the table you will see some reasons listed why the item(s) may deserve a "poor" rating. But remember, these are just some of the more common reasons. You may come up with many other reasons why the item is poor and ways to transform it into a good element for use within an engaged learning proposal. This same format will be used throughout each section of "Bridging the Gap," so stay on your toes, thinking caps on, and we're off!

Learner Outcomes: Bridging the Gap

 Poorly Written
 Well Written
1-a) The learner will understand that the sizes of the polar ice caps on Earth and Mars depend on the lengths of the seasons. 1-b) By completing this activity, the learner will compare the changing sizes of ice caps on Earth and Mars using the tilt of the axis of rotation, the time to complete an orbit (one year), and the time for one rotation about the axis (one day).
2-a) Learners will listen to myths based on early peoples' observations of the sky. 2-b) Learners will create their own myths based on their own and early peoples' observations of the sky.
3-a) The learner will show the key social, cultural, and economic ideas of America. 3-b) The learner will be able to analyze, interpret and explain key social, cultural, and economic ideas as expressed in the literature, art, and music of America at 40-year intervals.


1-a) The use of the action word "understand" makes the outcome hard to measure.

2-a) The use of the action word "listen" makes the outcome hard to measure.

3-a) The outcome is lacking a criteria to measure.

Can you think of any other reasons why the items are poor and ways to transform them into good elements for use within an engaged learning proposal?

Now you are ready to test your skill as a writer of learner outcomes. Look at the following learner outcomes and decide if they are poorly written or well written. Be prepared to answer, "Why?" or "Why not?" If your answer is a "thumbs-down," try to rewrite the learner outcome into a form that would receive a "thumbs-up."

Learner Outcomes - Thumbs-Up or Thumbs-Down

1) The learner will find and download/save an image of a terrestrial planet from the Internet
2) Students will compare real-time Earth and Mars weather measurements for temperature, wind speed, humidity and atmospheric pressure by accessing Internet-data resources from NASA.
3) The learner will understand different measuring units.

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