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Learning objectives and Taxonomies 

Overview 

Learning outcomes, academic objectives or learning objectives have two important didactic functions: They serve as a basis for assessing students’ performance in the final exam, and they are the focal point for reflexive learning processes, e.g. in the context of peer feedback or students assessing their own products. 

Learning outcomes also play a key role with regard to planning teaching activities in a way that ensures a clear link between what the student is to learn and will be assessed on, the form of examination and teaching activities.  

What the teacher should know about learning outcomes 

Learning outcomes are set by the academic regulations, and are also described in the course description in the course catalogue. As the academic regulations have been approved by the board of studies, teachers cannot simply change the learning outcomes. Consequently, they constitute a framework for planning a course or other teaching programme. 

Learning outcomes

The description of learning outcomes does not necessarily include all aspects of what the students will learn during a course. Therefore, it can be a good idea to distinguish between the purpose of a course (the knowledge, skills and competences to be acquired by students during the course) and its learning outcomes (the basis for assessing the student's performance at the end of course). The relationship between purpose and learning outcomes thus defines the testing strategy of the course. 

The learning outcomes are described with an active verb and a noun, and possibly a specification of the context in which the ability is to be demonstrated, in order to clarify the expectations for the knowledge, skills and competences acquired by students after completing the course. For example, the wording could be as follows:

  • The student must have acquired the ability to account for the course's key theoretical concepts in relation to innovation and entrepreneurship
  • The student must be able to apply theoretical concepts in order to identify opportunities to create innovation and value in a specific context

On some degree programmes, the learning outcomes for each course are divided into knowledge, skills and competences. On other programmes, only the overall description of qualifications for the degree programme uses this distinction. Read more about the concepts of Knowledge, Skills and Competences.

Taxonomies 

During their degree programme, students acquire different types of academic qualifications at different levels. On many university degree programmes, theoretical and analytical qualifications predominate. However, a number of degree programmes include practical and/or relational qualifications as key dimensions of students’ overall qualifications. 

To ensure academic relevance of the learning outcomes included in descriptions of individual courses, in terms of both type and level, knowing about some of the most commonly used learning taxonomies can be useful. 

Overview: Four taxonomies

A learning taxonomy is a system to describe progression in knowledge within a given type of qualification. Common to the taxonomies presented below is that they describe progression as mastery of a given topic, from basic to advanced. The difference between the taxonomies concerns the type of knowledge they describe. 

If you want to learn more about taxonomies, and get help to draw up learning outcomes, visit the knowledge, skills and competence site. On this page you will find examples of verbs that can be used to describe knowledge at different levels. 

Below is an overview of the four most common taxonomies: 

Bloom’s taxonomy 

Bloom's taxonomy is particularly useful for describing academic knowledge. The six levels of the taxonomy illustrate how knowledge of a given topic or a given problem progresses from the ability to reproduce content within a familiar context, to the ability to apply the acquired knowledge in partially new situations and partially new problems, to the ability to develop knowledge and adapt it to new academic problems. 

Simpson’s psychomotor taxonomy

Simpson's psychomotor taxonomy is particularly well-suited to describe practical, manual skills and procedures. The taxonomy has six levels illustrating how confidently students perform and master a skill, with the progression going from the ability to imitate a skill to developing precision when performing the skill to mastering the skill at a high level, including the ability to adapt the performance to specific situations. 

Kratwohl's taxonomy

Kratwohl's taxonomy for the affective domain is suitable to describe different forms of relational competences, e.g. the ability to interact with other people or professional values. The taxonomy contains five levels, from an observing position to the ability to distinguish and prioritise, to the internalisation of professional values and forms of interaction, including adapting them to the specific situation. 

The SOLO taxonomy

Unlike the three taxonomies described above, the SOLO taxonomy is not linked to a particular form of knowledge. Note, however, that it has been developed on the basis of analyses of academic assignments. This means that the verbs used to describe the five taxonomic levels are often closely linked to the cognitive domain also described in Bloom's taxonomy. The SOLO taxonomy allows for describing progression of both practical skills and relational competences. It only requires the use of verbs associated with these knowledge domains. The progression of the taxonomy is linked to development in knowledge, from basic knowledge within a defined context (uni-structural), to the ability to relate this knowledge to other areas of knowledge (multi-structural), to developing and combining knowledge in new ways (extended abstract level). 

   

Below, two of the most widely used taxonomies: Bloom's Taxonomy and SOLO taxonomy, will be accounted for.

Bloom’s taxonomy

Bloom's taxonomy is particularly useful for describing academic knowledge. The six levels of the taxonomy describe how knowledge of a given topic or a given problem progresses from the ability to reproduce content within a familiar context, over the ability to apply the acquired knowledge in partially new situations and on partially new problems, to the ability to develop knowledge and adapt it to new academic problems. For each level, the taxonomy suggests verbs that can be used to describe learning outcomes at the relevant level. The list is far from exhaustive, and other verbs may more accurately describe how students demonstrate their academic skills and knowledge. 

The SOLO taxonomy

SOLO stands for Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome and consists of five increasingly complex steps, with each step being conditional on the previous step. The model particularly focuses on student's ability to use relationality to raise the taxonomic level, with correlations between individual elements and abstraction to external topics/fields signalling work at a high taxonomic level. Therefore, the SOLO taxonomy is also about the transition from working on specific aspects to working with general aspects. 

Teachers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • How can your teaching activities support the learning outcomes of the course? 

  • Which taxonomic model and associated level best describes the current learning outcomes on my course? 

  • To what extent should I meta-communicate to my students when teaching deals with different taxonomic levels and learning outcomes? 

 

Activities

    Examples of practice

      Further reading

      Boud, D. (2010). Assessment 2020. Seven propositions for assessment reform in higher education.

      Andersen, H. L., Dahl, B., & Tofteskov, J. (2013). Eksamen. In L. Rienecker, P. S. Jørgensen, J. Dolin, & G. H. Ingerslev (Eds.), Universitetspædagogik (1. udgave ed., pp. 369-408). Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur.

      Andersen, H. L., & Tofteskov, J. (2016). Eksamen og eksamensformer : betydning og bedømmelse (2. udgave ed.).

      Keiding, T. B. (2016). Didaktiske perspektiver på og vejledning til udarbejdelse/revision af studieordninger.

      Keiding, T. B., & Felby, L. C. (2016). Notat om prøveformer.



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