What if… learning outcomes were a planning tool?

While eating my lunch, I read Iris Jastram‘s post Using Learning Outcomes and had a small a-ha! moment, and then fired off an all-staff email musing about it.  And then I thought, “Well, that’d make a fine blog post.”  So here’s that email.



I just read a blog post about information literacy instruction and learning outcomes, and suddenly thought about how learning outcomes can apply to our planning processes.  What if we thought about all new projects through the lens of formal learning outcomes?  Would that help us stay focused on our goals and mission?

The relevant paragraphs are:

Back when I attended Immersion many moons ago, they presented me with a formula for a learning outcome: “Students will” + [verb phrase] + “in order to” + [goal]. Then we used action words from Bloom’s Taxonomy [PDF] (the higher order the better, usually) to come up with the verb phrase describing what students would be able to do, and connected that action to a compelling reason for them to know how to do that.  So, for example (and not a great example), “Students will recognize key functions of a database interface in order to navigate unfamiliar databases by making educated guesses about functionality and options.”

In my own practice, two pieces of this are by far the most important. First, the formula puts the emphasis on what students learn, not on what I teach. Second, the “in order to” phrase is what I use to make sure my goals are information literacy goals rather than bibliographic instruction goals. “In order to use Boolean operators correctly” isn’t a good goal. Using Boolean is an action that may result in a goal of getting more relevant results from a variety of search interfaces, or that may help students deal with searches for concepts that don’t have standard vocabulary (very important in the humanities), but it’s not a goal in itself.

(continues here: http://pegasuslibrarian.com/2010/10/using-learning-outcomes.htm)

In light of today’s discussion of the Bregman Book Discussions, in which we wrestled for a while with what our overall goals and purpose are, this was particularly interesting to me.

The Libraries will sponsor Bregman Book Discussions in order to …. have book discussions?
The Libraries will sponsor Bregman Humanities events in order to …. expand the public understanding of what libraries can do and be.
The Libraries will sponsor Bregman Humanities events in order to …. offer vibrant and interdisciplinary options for learning outside the classroom.

It’s a very interesting exercise.  I’m not suggesting we all must do it or use it, but consider it the next time you’re planning something new.


A useful moment of “what if…” for me, and an interesting way to consider linking libraries planning with the language of our colleagues in the classroom.  I think.  What do you think?


  1. It’s definitely a goal I’m working toward. It’s just silly to have learning outcomes if they’re not useful to me in my work. And since I must have them, and I don’t want to be silly (all the time) …


  2. Absolutely! Identification of learning outcomes is essential in this day and age. I attended the Library Assessment Conference last week, and one of the conference themes was assessing via learning outcomes. Everyone wants to know about learning outcomes these days and how the library contributes to them–from administrators (i.e. provost level and above) to accrediting agencies. I think you (and the Pegasus Librarian) are on to something!


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