Objectives | The PIL Unit


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Writing expected learning outcomes

Kursutveckling.se offers useful support when formulating course learning outcomes in the form of expected learning outcomes. Here you will find, for example, the document 'Writing intended learning outcomes'. This document provides advice and suggestions about how to express the expected learning outcomes in a systematic and effective way. You may also use Kursverkstaden (an interactive tool only available in Swedish), which provides support to ensure that the course is formulated so that the expected learning outcomes, examinations and learning activities harmonise well with each other based on the Constructive Alignment Model.

When formulating the course’s expected learning outcomes, it is important to consider the requirements for a passing grade and how they are examined. The expected learning outcomes should be formulated in a precise way so that it is possible to clearly establish when a student has achieved the learning outcomes and when a student has not done so. They must show the knowledge threshold between a passing and a failing grade and thus express the minimum requirements for a pass. Not all learning is, or needs to be, examinable. The expected learning outcomes do not have to describe everything that the students learn during the course. However, the objectives expressed in the syllabus must be examined. Already when formulating expected learning outcomes, you should therefore consider potential ways of assessing goal attainment that may be used to examine the course. The described objectives must be reflected in the section that describes the course content. If the course is divided into different sub-courses, it should be clear which objectives are examined in each sub-course.

For courses forming part of a degree it is important to also consider the expected learning outcomes in relation to the learning outcomes for the degree. The learning outcomes must then be related to the learning outcomes for the degree and to the learning outcomes for other courses forming part of the degree.

It is good not to have too many expected learning outcomes in one course. A good rule of thumb may be to have between five and eight intended learning outcomes for courses of 7.5 to 15 higher education credits. However, disciplines are different and the rule of thumb should be seen as a guide and not absolute.

Substantial changes in the objectives mean that a new syllabus and a new course code must be established.

Examples of useful action verbs

The following link contains suggestions for action verbs along with possible proposals on qualifications to express the progression that can be used in the formulation of the expected learning outcomes.

List of useful action verbs and useful qualifiers (pdf)

Progression between courses

The knowledge and skills that students assimilate from a course often constitute the foundation for further study in subsequent courses. For courses that are interrelated in this way, it is important to formulate the expected learning outcomes with this in mind. Subsequent courses may comprise deepening or broadening the knowledge attained by students in previous courses. This progression should be clearly indicated by the expected learning outcomes for each course. It is important that the expected learning outcomes for a course have not already been examined on a previous course and that they are not formulated so that their requirements are lower than students have already achieved in a preceding course. This progression can be expressed in many ways. Students may, for example, be expected to apply their knowledge to new areas, deepen their knowledge within a more limited area, be expected to become more independent in their way of working and their capacity to resolve new problems, or be able to adopt a more critical or reflective approach within the subject or area. It may also mean that more stringent requirements are imposed on the students’ capacity to present and explain an area of knowledge to others and compare it to other fields or to existing research within the field.

Progression in learning goals is generally characterised by

  • increasing breadth/greater complexity (more aspects involved)
  • more emphasis on analysis and synthesis in courses at a higher level
  • increasing breadth/greater complexity (more abstract and detailed level)
  • increasing knowledge of methodological limitations and opportunities

Progression in skills objectives is generally characterised by

  • increasing independence in problem solving and execution
  • increasing requirement for professionalism when applying skills
  • increasing capacity to communicate knowledge to others

Progression in objectives relating to judgement and approach is generally characterised by

  • increasing independence in assessments
  • increasing emphasis on critical thinking
  • increasing responsibility for own learning
  • increasing responsibility in relation to the subject/subject area and/or professional or vocational area

Progression in courses and study programmes and between courses is shown most clearly in the formulation of the expected learning outcomes, the so-called objectives. This may be done in different ways. Important aspects to emphasise are that the courses and study programmes result in the students achieving an enhanced level of knowledge and deeper understanding. Here the choice of action verb, together with appropriate qualifiers for these verbs, is key.


Go through the following points – have you done everything?

Learning outcomes

  • are examinable
  • are expressed in terms of action verbs
  • show minimum levels for passing grades
  • are reasonable in number given number of points and level (first cycle, second cycle)
  • show a progression in relation to the previous course