Intended learning outcomes

What are Intended Learning Outcomes?

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) define what a learner will have acquired and will be able to do upon successfully completing their studies. ILOs are expressed from the students’ perspective and are measurable, achievable and assessable.

Why should we write Intended Learning Outcomes?

ILOs underpin every session, course, programme, module, or unit of study by allowing learners to see what they are aiming for and understand the value of the appropriately aligned assessments.

The Quality Assurance Agency Understanding Assessment guide (2011) explains the
relationship between ILOs, assessment and learning activities/resources and the order in which they should be considered:

Stage 1: Decide on the intended learning outcomes. What should the students be able to do on completion of the course (and what underpinning knowledge and understanding will they need in order to do it) that they could not do when they started?

Stage 2: Devise the assessment task(s). If you have written precise learning outcomes this should be easy because the assessment should be whether or not they can satisfactorily demonstrate achievement of the outcomes.

Stage 3: Devise the learning activities necessary (including formative assessment tasks) to enable the students to satisfactorily undertake the assessment task(s).
These stages should be conducted iteratively, with each stage informing the others to ensure coherence.”

This approach is called constructive alignment.

There are a lot of references for constructive alignment, but Aligning Teaching for Constructing Learning by Prof. John Biggs provides a good overview of its value. Also Teaching Teaching and Understanding Understanding (Part of the Teaching & Understanding series – video length: 8 mins).

It is due to educational theorists such as Biggs and the Quality Assurance Agency that ILOs are a key element of any HEI programme of study. The Quality Code for Higher Education (2012) ensures equality and parity across the UK HE sector, and Part B stipulates HEIs must demonstrate:

“Learning and teaching activities and associated resources provide every student with an equal and effective opportunity to achieve the intended learning outcomes.”

How to write Intended Learning Outcomes?

You should write learning outcomes using, what are often referred to as, active verbs (something students can do to demonstrate the results of their learning).

In this context passive verbs would be, for example, ‘appreciate’ or ‘show awareness’ – they make it difficult for the student to understand what is needed; and difficult for staff to assess.

A commonly seen passive verb used for writing ILOs is ‘understand’. The UoL Learning and Teaching website highlights the pitfalls of using ‘understand’.
“...take the following example:

Understand how to drive a car.
This could mean several different things.
  • Move, steer and stop a car.
  • Understand the mechanics of how to drive a car but not actually be able to drive one.”
Consider the first of these,
Move, steer and stop a car.

In order to measure/observe how well the learner can do these things we can use active verbs to write the following ILOs:
  • Reproduce the manoeuvres required to perform a three-point turn safely.
  • Discuss the stopping distances required when driving a car at 30mph, 50mph and 70mph.
Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives is a good starting point for developing learning outcomes. The taxonomy identifies six different levels of learning: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. This table lists the active verbs you might consider for each of Bloom’s levels of learning:

Level of Learning Active Verbs
























Measurable/Observable ILO Examples

Here are some examples of well written ILOs using active verbs, which will allow students to demonstrate what they have learnt.

Demonstrate basic Greek grammar and syntax.

Construct basic VBA computer programs for the numerical solution of basic problems.

Labour Market Studies
and critique theories of workplace and work-related learning.

Biological Sciences
how chromosomes are inherited through mitosis and meiosis and how genetic variation is generated.

Intended Learning Outcomes - Quick Check

  • Can your ILOs be measured/observed?
  • Are all of your ILOs addressed by your assessments?
  • Can the learner achieve ALL of the ILOs?

Taken from Intended Learning Outcomes Quick Guide

Working with Learning Outcomes Tutorial

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