Developing Student Learning Outcomes to Design Better Lesson Plans

Before designing a lesson, make sure you are familar with these three areas of education:

What Do Your Students Need?

  1. Student need (based on previous assessments of application of skills)
  2. Lesson objective (based on student needs identified)
  3. Learning outcome (based on lesson's objective, a product that will show evidence of learning)

The lesson's objective should be based on the students' needs. This will also determine the materials and subject content used in a lesson. The lesson strategies and circumstances should equip students with the knowledge needed to meet the learning outcome successfully. The learning outcome, or product of learning, is the evidence that shows the learning objective has been met successfully and learning has certainly taken place during that lesson.


Identifying students' need: A set of writing samples from a second grade class shows more than 90 percent of the students have not shown consistent mastery of using capitals for proper nouns, specifically names of locations. The need has been identified.

Writing the lesson objective based on need identified: Now that the need is identified, the objective for the lesson is written. Lesson objective: students will apply knowledge of capitalization of proper names, specifically names of towns, cities, states and countries.

Writing the learning outcome: Now that the objective is determined, the outcome is identified. Learning outcome: students will revise a sample paragraph containing names of geographical locations to correct capitalization errors.

The need, the objective and the outcome now determine the lesson design the educator uses to ensure the objective is met and will be demonstrated in students' final product of the lesson, the revised paragraph.

Developing Student Learning Outcomes

Once the lesson objective is determined, the outcome is created. In order to identify the outcome for the lesson, teachers must use their knowledge of students' environmental influences, including cultural heritage, as well as students' abilities in writing, speaking, listening, reading and viewing.

For example, if a group of students is unfamiliar with the content of the sample paragraph used to measure mastery of capitalizing proper nouns, they will be distracted, therefore interfering with the students' abilities to demonstrate what they know and are able to complete the objective taught. A paragraph on Tsunamis in different parts of Asia may be familiar to several students, but a paragraph on popular foods in different cultures is a better choice, since the different cultures are represented within the group of students in the class.

Here are some helpful pointers on developing learning outcomes that avoid distractions and provide an optimal outcome for students to show mastery of learning:

During the development of outcomes:

  • focus on product, not process
  • ask yourself, "What do I want students to do with the new knowledge?"
  • what are all students able to do already and how can these mastered skills be utilized in this outcome?

After the outcomes are created:

  • Are the students required to apply skills not yet taught to produce this outcome? If the answer is yes, revise the outcome.
  • Are the students familiar with the format of the product expected? If the answer is no, revise the outcome.

Consider this: a second grade class is given an assessment in multiple choice format. They are unfamiliar with that format and struggle to figure out what is expected in choosing a response. In this case, the format is not matched to students' abilities. The outcome is either changed so it is presented in a familiar format, or the students are exposed to this format before it is used as a learning outcome to show evidence of learning.

  • Ask yourself, "Are students able to do this without requiring application of additional, unfamiliar skills not yet taught?
  • Can students on all levels independently apply the objective to successfully produce this outcome created?

These self-reflective questions will assist in developing focused, effective learning outcomes that contribute to quality teaching, learning and assessment of students' abilities in the general education classroom.

Lesson Objectives and Learning Outcomes

A teacher may decide to combine the lesson objective and learning outcome for lesson planning and reporting purposes. For instance, let's take the example of teaching capitalization of proper nouns, specifically geographical locations, as used above.

The objective: students will use capitals for proper names of towns, cities, states and countries.

The outcome: students will revise a sample paragraph containing names of geographical locations to correct capitalization errors.

The combined objective and outcome: students will use capitals for proper names of towns, cities, states and countries as evidenced through the revision of a sample paragraph requiring the names of places to be capitalized.

Quality Counts

Remember, quality of process equals quality of product. The stronger, more focused the teaching to meet the lesson's objectives and lead students to producing the learning outcomes successfully, the more authentic and deep the learning. Deep understanding of skills and new knowledge lead to independent application of skills by students – that is the ultimate goal in education. Quality teaching and learning will help educators, students and parents to realize that goal.