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Course Design Blueprint: Learning Outcomes

What are Course Aims and how should they be created? 

Each course is expected to have a defined set of aims which are shared with students within course handbooks and Definitive Course Records.  These aims articulate the course's overall rationale and the balance between theory and practice.

Course aims should not only relate to the students and their experience, but should also explore how the course will interact more widely.


LO derivation

Where appropriate to the course, it is worth attempting to include at least one aim that says something about each of the following:

  • The range, characteristics or profile of students that the course will aim to provide for. 
  • The course content.
  • Students' development of graduate skills and attributes.
  • Sector specific priorities.
  • Linking to professional bodies, employers, and local communities.

Course learning outcomes should be written to meet the following principles:

  • Learning outcomes should be accessible to a variety of audiences.  They are included on students' final transcripts and so need to provide evidence to potential employers and providers of progression opportunities of the range of knowledge, abilities, skills and attributes that achievement of the course require.  They are also included in course definitive records and so seen by applicants and those who might advise them.
  • Courses enable students to learn subject knowledge, concepts, and theory, to develop and practice subject skills, aptitudes, and competencies, and to employ Graduate Attributes in a variety of settings and contexts.
  • Course learning outcomes should include outcomes of each of these types.
  • The Framework for Higher Education Qualification statements, as included further down this page, employ a three-part structure that could be developed to provide an initial set draft course (and level) learning outcomes that include the three types.

Course learning outcomes should be set out to clearly define the learning achievement that all students will be required to have demonstrated to be awarded each course's intended award. These learning outcomes will normally explore the theoretical and subject knowledge students will have gained, the subject related skills and attributes that they will have developed competency and/or fluency in through their studies, and the more generic and transferable skills and attributes that they will be able to demonstrate on completion of the course.

Learning outcomes will also be set out for each level of study within the course, showing how students' learning and achievement progresses through the intended student experience, and for each of the course's constituent modules. A mapping exercise is integrated into the course approval processes to require course teams to demonstrate that there is a clear relationship between module learning outcomes and course and level learning outcomes, and to ensure that all course learning outcomes will be achieved by graduating students.

Learning outcomes should be clearly defined for each course, level, and module, so that students and staff are clear about what students are expected to be able to do on completion of a block of study. There are usually eight to ten learning outcomes for each course (and level of study) and around three to five learning outcomes per module. All of a module's learning activities and assessments are aligned with, and enable student achievement of, the module's learning outcomes.

Course and module learning outcomes should also encompass outcomes associated with academic skills development and personal and professional development:
  • In supporting students' learning and progression through each course, students are prepared for their effective engagement with academic resources, and are equipped to work and communicate within an academic environment. Within undergraduate courses, students achieve the required learning outcomes for academic skills development through their Level 4 studies, whilst students starting their studies at higher levels are given opportunities to refresh or develop these skills as appropriate to their course.
  • Courses equip students for employment, with the development and practice of subject specific skills and attributes, and the University's Graduate Attributes, integrated into the curriculum explicitly at module level. In addition, through the inclusion of personal and professional development learning outcomes, all undergraduate courses explore and enhance students' skills in preparing for opportunities following graduation, be they interested in gaining employment, embarking on higher level study, or pursuing other personal aspirations.

The Framework for Higher Education Qualifications

Certificates of Higher Education

These are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

  • knowledge of the underlying concepts and principles associated with their area(s) of study, and an ability to evaluate and interpret these within the context of that area of study

  • an ability to present, evaluate and interpret qualitative and quantitative data, in order to develop lines of argument and make sound judgements in accordance with basic theories and concepts of their subject(s) of study.

Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

  • evaluate the appropriateness of different approaches to solving problems related to their area(s) of study and/or work

  • communicate the results of their study/work accurately and reliably, and with structured and coherent arguments

  • undertake further training and develop new skills within a structured and managed environment.

And holders will have:

  • the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring the exercise of some personal responsibility.

Foundation degrees  and DipHE

These are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

  • knowledge and critical understanding of the well-established principles of their area(s) of study, and of the way in which those principles have developed
  • ability to apply underlying concepts and principles outside the context in which they were first studied, including, where appropriate, the application of those principles in an employment context
  • knowledge of the main methods of enquiry in the subject(s) relevant to the named award, and ability to evaluate critically the appropriateness of different approaches to solving problems in the field of study
  • an understanding of the limits of their knowledge, and how this influences analyses and interpretations based on that knowledge.

Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

  • use a range of established techniques to initiate and undertake critical analysis of information, and to propose solutions to problems arising from that analysis
  • effectively communicate information, arguments and analysis in a variety of forms to specialist and non-specialist audiences and deploy key techniques of the discipline effectively
  • undertake further training, develop existing skills and acquire new competences that will enable them to assume significant responsibility within organisations.

And holders will have:

  • the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring the exercise of personal responsibility and decision-making.

Bachelor's degrees with honours

These are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

  • a systematic understanding of key aspects of their field of study, including acquisition of coherent and detailed knowledge, at least some of which is at, or informed by, the forefront of defined aspects of a discipline
  • an ability to deploy accurately established techniques of analysis and enquiry within a discipline
  • conceptual understanding that enables the student:
    • to devise and sustain arguments, and/or to solve problems, using ideas and techniques, some of which are at the forefront of a discipline
    • to describe and comment upon particular aspects of current research, or equivalent advanced scholarship, in the discipline
  • an appreciation of the uncertainty, ambiguity and limits of knowledge
  • the ability to manage their own learning, and to make use of scholarly reviews and primary sources (for example, refereed research articles and/or original materials appropriate to the discipline).

Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

  • apply the methods and techniques that they have learned to review, consolidate, extend and apply their knowledge and understanding, and to initiate and carry out projects
  • critically evaluate arguments, assumptions, abstract concepts and data (that may be incomplete), to make judgements, and to frame appropriate questions to achieve a solution - or identify a range of solutions - to a problem
  • communicate information, ideas, problems and solutions to both specialist and non-specialist audiences.

And holders will have:

  • the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring:
    • the exercise of initiative and personal responsibility
    • decision-making in complex and unpredictable contexts
    • the learning ability needed to undertake appropriate further training of a professional or equivalent nature

Master's degrees

These are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

  • a systematic understanding of knowledge, and a critical awareness of current problems and/or new insights, much of which is at, or informed by, the forefront of their academic discipline, field of study or area of professional practice
  • a comprehensive understanding of techniques applicable to their own research or advanced scholarship
  • originality in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in the discipline
  • conceptual understanding that enables the student:
    • to evaluate critically current research and advanced scholarship in the discipline
    • to evaluate methodologies and develop critiques of them and, where appropriate, to propose new hypotheses.

Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

  • deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, make sound judgements in the absence of complete data, and communicate their conclusions clearly to specialist and non-specialist audiences
  • demonstrate self-direction and originality in tackling and solving problems, and act autonomously in planning and implementing tasks at a professional or equivalent level
  • continue to advance their knowledge and understanding, and to develop new skills to a high level.

And holders will have:

  • the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring:
    • the exercise of initiative and personal responsibility
    • decision-making in complex and unpredictable situations
    • the independent learning ability required for continuing professional development.