Learning outcomes

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Provide students with learning outcomes.

When students arrive to our classes, they vary in their understanding of what learning is generally and in economics specifically. "Learning outcomes" tell students what they should be able to know and do after completing a major, a course, or an assignment. Articulating thoughtful learning outcome statements focuses instructor and student efforts and improves both teaching and learning.

The Social Science Research Council recently convened scholars with expertise on teaching and learning in economics to facilitate faculty consensus around a set of “essential concepts and competencies” for undergraduates (Allgood and Bayer 2016). Allgood and Bayer (2017) extend that work, presenting a framework for developing learning outcomes and a set of learning outcomes for instructors to use.

Increased structure has been shown to reduce the achievement gap between disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged students in introductory biology (Haak, HilleRisLambers, Pitre, and Freeman 2011) [1]. In stating course learning outcomes on their syllabi, instructors are explicit about what students should be aiming for in their courses. It is also helpful to clarify expectations for specific assignments by providing students with daily learning outcomes or rubrics.


Clear communication of faculty expectations for student achievement in a particular assignment, as in the course overall, helps to direct student effort. Assuming that students understand what constitutes academic success can perpetuate inequities and create feelings of alienation. Rubrics are a valuable pedagogical tool for all students, and especially for those with less prior academic training in a field. They serve a two-fold purpose:

  1. Rubrics provide a common communication of expectations, both for the student and for the professor. This vehicle of communication is clear and contractual because rubrics are written instead of verbally delivered.
  2. Rubrics serve as a roadmap for academic growth as a student. This ‘rubrics as a roadmap’ concept is particularly important for students who do not come from academic or intellectual backgrounds and, therefore, are unaware of the ‘intellectual norms’ within academia.

A good resource for economics professors interested in rubrics is the Association of American College and University’s VALUE resources.

“The VALUE rubrics were developed by teams of faculty experts representing colleges and universities across the United States through a process that examined many existing campus rubrics and related documents for each learning outcome and incorporated additional feedback from faculty. The rubrics articulate fundamental criteria for each learning outcome, with performance descriptors demonstrating progressively more sophisticated levels of attainment,” (AACU).

More information on VALUE, including rubrics and implementation tools, can be found at http://www.aacu.org/value/index.cfm.

Frances Woolley offers an interesting discussion on Should professors tell students exactly what they expect?.

Alverno College identifies eight core learning abilities, to inform student expectations and learning goals ([2]).

*Thank you to Ursula Mlynarek for her major contributions to this section.