Short answer? Because you’ve gotta know what the hell your students need to know. See, teaching them stuff is all well and good, but the point behind teaching anyone is to be able to measure if they’ve learned anything. That’s where a good set of learning outcomes – a measurable set of learning outcomes is vital.
“But Erica,” you’re probably asking, “how does one write good learning outcomes?” A few years ago, I probably would’ve said “I dunno, just wing it.” Now, though, it’s different, because I know what learning outcomes are supposed to have.
I mean, you *could* pluck them out of thin air, but that’s not gonna do what you want it to do. No, you start with Bloom’s Taxonomy. And if you don’t know what that is, that’s okay because we’re gonna talk about it!
Bloom’s Taxonomy is essentially a way to classify different types and levels of learning. The graphic down below shows the hierarchy of it all:
Much like any other pyramid, Bloom’s Taxonomy has a hierarchy, meaning that learning at the higher levels is dependent on having mastered the knowledge and skills at the lower levels (Halawi, McCarthy, & Pires, 2009). While utilizing Bloom’s taxonomy is important across the board, it is almost especially important in regards to online learning, because it’s really difficult to truly verify what online students know compared to face-to-face students.
So how do we do it? I’ll tell you, my general way of going about it is to figure out what I want students to know. In regards to my project for EDU623, I’m designing a history class focused on the Civil War and Reconstruction, so my learning outcomes need to reflect that. What do I want students to know? What do I want students to be able to do? Some of it is going to be rote memorization – they’ll need to know certain people and dates and pieces of legislation. Those tasks fall under the bottom two pieces of this pyramid. But students also need to be able to pull apart an argument, as well as formulate their own argument and support that argument with primary source evidence. That means they need to be able to analyze and understand primary source evidence, and figure out where that evidence fits into the great scheme of the Civil War.
To be honest, students taking this class are going to have a lot of things to do and learn. And I’m never 100% sure how to phrase these things – how do I adequately talk about what I want students to know how to do at the end?
Action verbs, that’s how! See, the beauty of Bloom’s taxonomy is that each level has verbs that correspond to them, meaning that if you want a student to know something at the lower levels, you’re looking at things like “identify” and “define” and “explain,” and at the higher levels, you’re looking at “defend” and “argue” and “synthesize.”
Action verbs are wonderful things that should be used in every learning outcome. Otherwise, what the hell are your students learning? And how would you know either way?
Halawi, L. A., McCarthy, R. V., & Pires, S. (2009). An evaluation of e-learning on the basis of Bloom’s taxonomy: An exploratory study. Journal of Education for Business, 84(6), 374-380. doi:10.3200/JOEB.84.6.374-380