Teaching Tuesdays@CSU

Teaching Tips & Links for SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING

Issue 64 - Measurable Learning Outcomes

August 13, 2019

Backward design and constructive alignment are ‘two sides of the same coin’, complementary concepts that are applied in learning and assessment design.

The first article in this week’s bulletin looks at designing learning outcomes through the principles of backward design. The second article highlights the wealth of resources available to support your design of learning outcomes through the process of constructive alignment, which is key feature of assessment policies at Charles Sturt University. As a bonus this week, there are two workshops on writing learning outcomes available from the Division of Learning and Teaching, with details below.

This week's topics:

  1. Getting Started with Backward Design: Meaningful and Measurable Learning Outcomes

  2. Constructive Alignment and the Design of Learning Outcomes

Professional Learning Opportunities this week

Writing Good Learning Outcomes. What is a good learning outcome? Why would we rewrite the ones we have already? Writing assessment tasks to align with learning outcomes can identify that the learning outcomes need to be rewritten. Maybe they are not at an adequate level to meet AQF standards. Maybe they are not measurable. Maybe they don’t align with the learning activities. Are they too vague, or too prescriptive? How many is too many? How do you get them changed anyway? Explore the answers to these questions, or bring your own. This workshop is an opportunity to work through what needs to be in a good learning outcome. Wednesday August 14 and Thursday August 15, 1:00 pm.

See below for details and for more Professional Learning opportunities this week at Charles Sturt University.


1. Getting Started with Backward Design: Meaningful and Measurable Learning Outcomes

By Dr Vicki Caruana

Source: https://www.magnalearning.com/learn/video/getting-started-with-backward-design-meaningful-and-measurable-learning-outcomes?client=magna-mentor-commons

Reading Time: (6 minutes, 55 minutes for original video)

Backwards design is a term that came to prominence through the work of Wiggins and McTighe over the last 20 years. (see Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

The underlying principle is that we are starting with the end in mind.

  • What is it that we want our students to learn and how do we collect evidence of that learning that is credible, transparent, meaningful and measurable?
  • Are the outcomes that we have created relevant: to the content area, to the learners themselves, to the context?
  • Do I know it when I see it?
  • How do I know whether or not or to what extent my learners have met the outcomes?

These are the questions that Dr Caruana poses at the start of this workshop.

The first 20 minutes discusses the different types of outcomes that we need to consider in higher education.

  • Institutional (17 min) – these would equate to our Charles Sturt University Ethos, Values, and Graduate Learning Outcomes. They need to be transparent to outside observers.
  • Course (Program) (19:30 min). These are more specific than the institutional level outcomes. At Charles Sturt these are designed to meet the degree level requirements of the Australian Qualifications Framework.
  • Subject (Course) (20:30 min). Specific learning outcomes that will dictate the learning experiences that will happen in this subject.

The next section of the video, starting at 24 min, looks at strategies for communicating the learning outcomes to students and other stakeholders including regulatory, accreditation, industry and professional bodies.

For students, focusing their attention on the learning outcomes promotes engagement.

  • Go over learning outcomes at the onset of the subject with your students
  • Revisit them mid-way through the subject
  • Revisiting them at the end helps students to see their progress and completion of the subject.
  • These simple strategies help students to know what they have achieved regardless of their final grades.

Discussion of the backwards design principles starts at 33:45 min, or at the bottom of page 8 in the accompanying transcript.

The Design Phase

The Design Phase for making meaningful and measurable outcomes includes the following

four (4) steps.

  • Step 1: Design 5-8 Course Outcomes.
  • Step 2: Design Module Objectives.
  • Step 3: Design Assessments that Meet Outcomes and Objectives. This is what makes it measurable.
  • Step 4: Design Meaningful Learning Experiences, Resources, and Activities.

A cautionary note:

Forwards design– “Typically, we as faculty design our courses around a set of activities and our content first. Maybe you are in love with your particular content and in one area, you know you love doing a poverty simulation within one of your courses in your social sciences course. And you love that activity so much, you then design everything else around it. That’s actually forward design. It doesn’t have any outcomes connected to it.

So, we need to start again with the end in mind, start with our outcomes. And then we connect our learning activities, our resources, even the textbook you choose to those outcomes so that they are meaningful.

{{{NOTE: We at Charles Sturt use the term outcomes rather than objectives for our design considerations to shift the focus from what we intend to achieve to what the students will be able to do at all stages of their learning.

For an article on the differences between outcomes and objectives see: Harden, R. M. (2002). Learning outcomes and instructional objectives: is there a difference? Medical Teacher, 24(2), 151-155. doi: 10.1080/0142159022020687. This article will also help with understanding the rationale for limiting the number and specificity of learning outcomes compared to objectives.}}}

“Remember the purpose of an objective is to give all learners in your class the same understanding of the desired instructional outcome.”

Characteristics of Well-Designed Learning Objectives:

  • Objectives should identify a learning outcome.
  • Objectives should be consistent with subject outcomes. When objectives and goals are not consistent, two avenues of approach are available: change or eliminate the objective or change the subject goal. It should be consistent or aligned with a subject outcome.
  • Objectives should be precise. It is sometimes difficult to strike a balance between too much and too little precision in an objective.

Precise (40:00 min). Based on the verb used (e.g. understand art – is not measurable).

Meaningful and Measurable? (41:30 min)


  • Does it represent what students should know and be able to do?
  • Is it directly connected to a subject outcome?
  • Is it learner/student focused?


  • Is there an assignment/activity/assessment that demonstrates students’ knowledge and ability?
  • Is there criteria to determine to what extent students know and are able to do what you’ve described?
  • Is the verb/action used to describe the learning measurable? Can you observe it?

IF ... the learners meet the criteria for success for the module/learning objectives;

AND IF ... the module/learning objectives are connected to subject outcomes;

THEN ... the learners have met the subject outcomes.

This is evidence of student learning that’s meaningful and measurable.

When your outcomes/objectives are in need of an EXTREME MAKEOVER. . .

  • Reconsider the verb (is it observable?).
  • Make sure it matches the level of the course? (survey, remedial, lower level, upper level?)
  • Include a way to measure it.

Final advice

  • Control what you can control.
  • Exercise your academic freedom.
  • Be transparent with students about who you are and what you expect.
  • And finally. . .
  • Always ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing – before someone else does!

The session concludes with Q&A from 49 min.


Harden, R. M. (2002). Learning outcomes and instructional objectives: is there a difference? Medical Teacher, 24(2), 151-155. doi: 10.1080/0142159022020687

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition. Alexandria VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. This is available as an e-book from Charles Sturt University Library and is well worth taking the time to read.

The PROFESSIONAL LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES AND RESOURCES section below has details about how to get FREE access to our Magna Publications quality Learning & Teaching resources subscription.


2. Constructive Alignment and the Design of Learning Outcomes

Assessment design and the Assessment policies at Charles Sturt University are based on the principle of constructive alignment (see Tang & Biggs, 2011).

Constructive alignment is an outcomes-based approach to teaching in which the learning outcomes that students are intended to achieve are defined before teaching takes place. Teaching and assessment methods are then designed to best achieve those outcomes and to assess the standard at which they have been achieved (Biggs, 2014).”

Outcomes based teaching and learning is based on meeting set standards of teaching and learning to ensure students meet the requirements for a degree. Assessment is marked against criteria referenced to the outcomes (Spady, 1994).

In constructive alignment, assessment is aligned to the intended learning outcomes and students construct knowledge through teaching and learning experiences. Students show evidence of how they meet the outcomes through assessment where they show construction of knowledge and skills. Teaching provides the opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning.

The focus in constructive alignment is on what and how students learn, rather than on the topic the teacher teaches. The action verb in a learning outcome describes to students what they should perform to achieve the intended learning outcome (for example, “apply procedures” or “compare theories”). Learning activities are what the student undertakes to meet these learning outcomes and students construct knowledge and skills based on the learning activities. Assessment shows how well they have learned from the activities. Student-centred, active learning activities provide opportunities for students to construct new knowledge.

The preceding text was taken directly from the Division of Learning and Teaching web page on Constructive Alignment. Why not explore these pages for yourself? The constructive alignment page includes examples of a series of visualisation aids that will assist you in the design of your own constructively aligned subject.

More self-paced resources to aid in writing your learning outcomes are housed in the Charles Sturt internal DOMS database: Writing Good Learning Outcomes.


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

Biggs, J. B., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university (4th ed.). Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education. This is available as an e-book from Charles Sturt University Library and is well worth taking the time to read.


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Charles Sturt Ed 2019 (formerly CSUed)

Registrations and the Call for Contributions are now open.

This year's Charles Sturt Ed conference, Working together for student success, will be held on 20-22 November on the Wagga Campus. This will be an opportunity to discuss learning and teaching in the context of our Student Strategy which is part of the University Strategy 2017-2022. The main themes for the Charles Sturt Ed 2019 conference are:

  • Student-centred courses, teaching, services and culture
  • Quality learning and teaching
  • Innovative learning environments



1....Teaching support resources at CSU
2....CSU Professional Learning
3....Bonus CSU resource - LinkedIn Learning

4....Magna Publications Subscriptions
5....Links to previous bulletins


1. Teaching support resources at CSU

You have access to a range of quality CSU resources to help you incorporate educational resources and techniques into your teaching. Check out the following:


3. Bonus CSU resource - LinkedIn Learning

All Charles Sturt University students and staff members have access to LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com).

This online subscription library provides high-quality instructional videos to teach the latest business, creative and software skills, as well as an extensive range of teaching tips.

NOTE: Lynda.com is now LinkedIn Learning and all Charles Sturt University Lynda.com accounts were transferred to LinkedIn Learning accounts on July 8.

A video of the demo session for your transfer to LinkedIn Learningis available at:


Get to know LinkedIn Learning with a tour and getting started options available at



4. Magna Publications Subscriptions

All staff with a CSU email address have free access to our annual

CSU subscription to the four different high quality resources for enhancing practice.

Video seminars: Mentor Commons (20 minutes) and Magna Commons (40-90 minutes) also include the presentation handouts, full transcripts and supplementary resources that are available for download if you don't have time to listen to the seminar.

Text-based resources: The Teaching Professor (for teaching staff) and Academic Leader (for those in academic and administration leadership roles).

How to subscribe

There is a single CSU subscription code to access all four of these resources.

Staff with a CSU login can obtain the code and subscription instructions from this What's New link.

Alternatively, contact

Ellen McIntyre elmcintyre@csu.edu.au or

Matthew Larnach mlarnach@csu.edu.au


5. Links to previous bulletins

Folder with all previous issues.

Other CSU Learning & Teaching Newsletters

Division of Learning and Teaching: DLT News

FoBJBS Newsletter: BJBS-News

FoA&E Newsletter: NeXus

Click below to download a list of previous Teaching Tuesdays@CSU topics

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Teaching Tuesdays@CSU Contacts

Learning Academy, Division of Learning & Teaching, Charles Sturt University

Teaching Tuesdays@CSU bulletins are edited by Ellen McIntyre
Lecturer, Academic Development in the Learning Academy at Charles Sturt University

Kogi Naidoo

Dr Kogi Naidoo, FHERDSA and PFHEA, is Associate Professor and Director of the Learning Academy, Division of Learning and Teaching at Charles Sturt University, playing a strategic role contributing to and enhancing teaching, the curriculum and assessment practice, meeting both staff and student needs.