Learning outcomes and instructional objectives: is there a difference?

Med Teach. 2002 Mar;24(2):151-5. doi: 10.1080/0142159022020687.


Learning outcomes are broad statements of what is achieved and assessed at the end of a course of study. The concept of learning outcomes and outcome-based education is high on today's education agenda. The idea has features in common with the move to instructional objectives which became fashionable in the 1960s, but which never had the impact on education practice that it merited. Five important differences between learning outcomes and instructional objectives can be recognized: (1) Learning outcomes, if set out appropriately, are intuitive and user friendly. They can be used easily in curriculum planning, in teaching and learning and in assessment. (2) Learning outcomes are broad statements and are usually designed round a framework of 8-12 higher order outcomes. (3) The outcomes recognize the authentic interaction and integration in clinical practice of knowledge, skills and attitudes and the artificiality of separating these. (4) Learning outcomes represent what is achieved and assessed at the end of a course of study and not only the aspirations or what is intended to be achieved. (5) A design-down approach encourages ownership of the outcomes by teachers and students.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence*
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical / methods
  • Education, Medical / standards*
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Planning Techniques
  • Teaching / methods
  • Teaching / standards*
  • United Kingdom