Learning Objectives and Learning Outcomes – what’s the difference?

Most people wonder what the difference between learning objectives and outcomes are.

Well, there is a huge difference, and my this blog is about that!

In education, learning objectives are brief statements that describe what students will be expected to learn by the end of school year, course, unit, lesson, project, or class period. Thus learning objective on a larger frame can be called the program level objectives (PLOs). Each program will have several subjects, and each subject will have its own objectives or SLOs. Whittling down further, each subject will have chapters and topics, which again will have their own objectives (CLOs).


If worked out systematically, then all threads should join at PLO and the course curriculum will become well focused, robust and of a high quality.

On the other hand, learning outcomes are goals that describe how a student will be different because of the learning experience. Learning outcomes have to be MEASURED by assessments. This is difficult thing to do, because any measurement of an intangible verb of learning has qualitative and quantitative aspects – quantitative assessments are easier, and qualitative assessments are much more difficult to judge.

Most importantly, if we are ever going to measure the return on investment (ROI) in education, writing learning outcomes meticulously along with rubrics and assessment matrix becomes of utmost importance. More importantly, the learning outcomes will point to knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of the mind that a learner will take from the learning experience.

Here is a comparison of the two ‘confusing’ phrases – learning objectives and learning outcomes.

Feature Learning Objectives Learning Outcomes
Where will you find it in a course/module? At the beginning At the end of a topic, module or an entire subject/course
What identifies it? The verb. The scores.
Does it test the instruction? Yes.

It is a reflection on the teacher’s instruction.

No, not directly.

It is a reflection on the student’s assimilation (and indirectly on the instruction)

Clarity of goals? Yes, qualitatively. The assessment matrix/rubrics and the scores will measure the goals mostly quantitatively. (But sometimes qualitatively as well – for example project work.)
Should they be weighted? Yes, via time spent on the instruction. Yes, via assessment matrix/rubrics
Do they have levels? Yes No, not specifically but the assessment matrix/rubrics should take care of the levels.
Mapping with Program Learning Objectives (PLO) Yes Yes
Need for templates No Yes
Which is more difficult for teacher/instructor or even for curriculum designers? Less difficult More difficult.

Verbs used for instructions have to be weighted, and questions asked accordingly!!

Builds or measures skills/competencies? Builds Measures
Bloom or Gagne Bloom Gagne

(Plus Kirkpatrick’s 4 levels for scoring, evaluation of training programs and ROI)

Diagram 3