Writing intended learning outcomes

Find all you need to know about Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) on this page. You’ll also find resources to help you write your course and unit level ILOs.

What are ILOs?

ILOs are statements that explicitly describe what every student needs to have learned to successfully complete the course or level of study.

Higher Education Quality Assurance practice defines students in terms of what they can do at the end of a course, not what they have been taught.

ILOs should focus on what subject knowledge and understanding, as well as skills, behaviours, values, and ethics, students must be able to demonstrate by the end of the course. Determining the overall purpose and aims of your course or unit is the basis for the development of meaningful ILOs

Intended learning outcome FAQ

There is an upper limit of 12 Course Intended Learning Outcomes (CILOs) for a course, with one CILO for each of Placement and Study Year Abroad, if applicable. The longer the course, the more CILOs you are likely to have. For units, 4-6 Unit Intended Learning Outcomes (UILOs) is common practice in the sector. Accredited courses may have more, although you may be able to distill the ILOs from your accrediting body down into the figures above.

Collectively ILOs must:  

  • Establish a shared understanding of the course’s intentions, purpose and aims amongst everyone involved in the course (students, staff, examiners)
  • Describe what every student should realistically be able to do upon completion of the whole course
  • Guide staff to design and develop teaching and assessment methods that support the course’s intentions, purpose and aims
  • Benefit both staff and students
  • Be written in language that can be understood by both staff and students

This approach has been found to improve student success rates (Hattie, 2011, 130) as well as students’ confidence, sense of belonging, and retention – with significant benefits for those from Widening Participation backgrounds (Winklemes, Bernacki, Butler, Zochowski, Golanics, and Weavil, 2016).

Each ILO must:

  • Complete the unfinished sentence: “By the end of the course/unit you will be able to…”.
  • Begin with an action verb (e.g. explain, apply, evaluate).
  • Be sufficiently high-level to allow for updates to course and unit content and delivery without necessitating further approval.
  • Be broad enough to allow for flexibility in the way in which students can demonstrate via assessment that they have met the ILO (whether course or unit), thus meeting the terms of the Equality Act 2010 and reducing the requirement for Disability Access Plans.
  • Be specific enough to allow for rigorous assessment of students against the ILO.

Course Intended Learning Outcomes (CILOs)

  • Explicitly describe what every student needs to have learned to successfully complete the whole course or level of study
  • Bath assigns CILOs across three categories, with it possible that one CILO may be relevant to more than one category. The categories are:
    1. Knowledge and Understanding
    2. Intellectual Skills
    3. Professional and Transferable Skills

Unit Intended Learning Outcomes (UILOs)

  • Explicitly describe what every student needs to have learned to successfully complete the unit
  • Give context for at least one CILO
  • They must be designed at the appropriate QAA FHEQ level (e.g. a first year UILO will correspond to FHEQ level 4).
  • Must map to at least one CILO
  • A well-written learning UILO has three considerations:
  1. What the student will be able to do that demonstrates learning;
  2. The context in which the student will demonstrate learning;
  3. How the student will demonstrate their learning via the unit assessment

To create robust ILOs for your course, you should refer to the following Quality Assurance Agency resources:

  • The Frameworks for Higher Education Qualification
  • Degree Characteristics Statements
  • Subject Benchmark Statements

If your course is accredited, you will also need to refer to your accreditation requirements when developing your learning outcomes.

ILOs and the Equality Act

To provide equal access to Higher Education, all courses – not just those that are accredited – have a legal duty to ensure that students with disabilities are not at a disadvantage when demonstrating their achievements. In practice, this means that all ILOs should be written at a threshold level. They are what a student who just passes at each level should be able to do. Marking criteria are used to enable higher levels of achievement to be described. In following this practice, your ILOs can serve as Competency Standards. You will also need to consider the Equality Act (2010) when designing your assessment so that a student with disabilities are not disadvantaged in demonstrating their achievements by the type of assessment chosen. Please contact your CDO if you would like support.

ILO tools and resources

Action Verbs

ILO Checklist

What are the benefits of well-written ILOs?

  • Enable lecturers to be more precise in planning, supporting, and assessing learning.
  • Provide a basis for writing assessment criteria.
  • Allow lecturers to make changes and updates to your course without going through formal change procedures

  • Provide a clear idea of what is expected, and a goal for learning and studying. This has been found to improve student success rates as well as students’ confidence, sense of belonging, and retention – with significant benefits for those from Widening Participation backgrounds.
  • Enable informed choices to be made about courses during recruitment or units during the course.
  • Help identify relevant prior learning and recognise what they know so they can better articulate their skills and knowledge on completion of their studies for future study and employability purposes.

Hattie, 2011, 130

Winklemes, Bernacki, Butler, Zochowski, Golanics, and Weavil, 2016

White, M.A. (1971) The View from the Student’s Desk, (p.340)

“The analogy that might make the student’s view more comprehensible…is to imagine oneself on a ship sailing across an unknown sea, to an unknown destination. A [lecturer] would be desperate to know where [they are] going. But a student only knows [they are] going on a ship. The chart is neither available nor understandable… Very quickly, the daily life on board ship becomes all important…the daily chores, the demands, the inspections, become the reality, not the voyage or the destination.”

  • Explicitly articulate the underpinning values, attitudes, and skills not reflected in the content.
  • Enable transparent and effective links to be made between learning and teaching methods, and assessment and feedback methods, and course/unit evaluation methods

ILOs and quality assurance

Setting and maintaining academic standards

Degree-awarding bodies are responsible for setting and maintaining the academic standards and quality of courses leading to qualifications that they award. Institutions must:

  • position their qualifications at the appropriate level of the relevant framework for higher education qualifications
  • ensure that course intended learning outcomes align with the relevant qualification descriptor
  • ensure that course intended learning outcomes required for each of their courses and qualifications are specified clearly (including those for any intermediate or exit qualifications within them)
  • be satisfied that, for any course, the learning opportunities and assessment provides every student with the opportunity to achieve, and to demonstrate achievement of, the course intended learning outcomes

For more guidance, visit: https://www.qaa.ac.uk/quality-code

Framework for Higher Education Qualification (FHEQ)

The FHEQ is a formal structure that has been adopted by the UK to define their qualification system. The FHEQ has qualification descriptors for each level which state the outcomes which a student should achieve and the wider abilities which a student may have developed. This ensures that intended learning outcomes are at the right academic level for the course, defines the progression between levels and confirms that credit and qualifications are awarded to mark the achievement of positively defined outcomes.

The frameworks and descriptors are an important tool for professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (PSRBs) in defining and using qualifications in the context of their professional recognition and accreditation processes.

Course and unit intended learning outcomes should be linked to the correct level of the FHEQ (for example, Bachelor degree with Honours is a level 6 qualification). Intended learning outcomes provide a standard benchmark for UK HE, providing transparency and comparability between courses and institutions (nationally and internationally), ensuring degree standards and outcomes are equitable.

For more guidance, visit: https://www.qaa.ac.uk/docs/qaa/quality-code/qualifications-frameworks.pdf

Subject Benchmark Statements

Subject Benchmark Statements define what can be expected of graduates in particular subject areas. They describe what graduates might know, understand and be able to do at the end of their studies.

For more guidance, visit: https://www.qaa.ac.uk/quality-code/subject-benchmark-statements

Characteristic Statements

These statements describe the qualifications (e.g. Foundation degree, Masters degree) in terms of their purpose, general characteristics and generic outcomes, but do not include subject level detail. CILOs are required to align with the relevant statement.

For more guidance, visit: https://www.qaa.ac.uk/quality-code

Examples of ILOs from different disciplines

By the end of the course you will be able to…

Recognise complexities in the construction industry, and the need for safe, efficient and sustainable development.
MSc in Modern Building Design (PGT Early Adopter), Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering

Apply key engineering management concepts and principles, linking theory and practice meaningfully and identifying the most relevant data to inform decision making.
MSc in Engineering Business Management, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Appraise existing information in order to generate innovative solutions relating to the environmental design of buildings.
MSc in Architectural Engineering: Environmental Design (PGT Early Adopter), Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering

Apply the concepts and principles of chemical and biochemical engineering to the solution of engineering problems in both familiar and in unpredictable professional environments.
BEng and MEng Chemical Engineering (Vanguard), Department of Chemical Engineering

Analyse and solve complex open-ended problems relating to the conservation of historic buildings and cultural heritage, identifying possibilities for originality and creativity.
MSc in Conservation of Historic Buildings (PGT Early Adopter), Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering

Communicate complex information clearly and effectively to the target audience.
MSc in Civil Engineering: Innovative Structural Materials (PGT Early Adopter), Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering

Plan and execute a small project.
BEng in Computer Systems Engineering, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering

By the end of the course you will be able to…

Develop coherent arguments and challenge assumptions.
BSc and MSci Sport and Exercise Science (Vanguard), Department for Health

Demonstrate originality and creativity to systematically deal with complex issues at the forefront of sport and exercise science.
MSci Sport and Exercise Science (Vanguard), Department for Health

Construct and sustain a reasoned argument about educational issues in a clear, lucid and coherent manner.
BA Education with Psychology, Department of Education

Design and conduct experimental and observational studies and analyse the data resulting from them.
BSc Economics and Mathematics, Department of Economics

Synthesise a wide range of conceptual and empirical material in a coherent and structured way for a variety of public and policy audiences.
MSc Public Policy, Department of Social and Policy Sciences

Recognise the inherent variability and diversity of psychological functioning and its significance.
BSc Psychology, Department of Psychology

Critically evaluate research.
MA International Security, Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies

By the end of the course you will be able to…

Formulate and test hypotheses.
BSc Biochemistry, Department of Biology and Biochemistry

Propose and apply creative solutions to chemical problems.
BSc Chemistry, Department of Chemistry

Utilise self-directed problem solving and analytical skills in a wide variety of practical situations.
MSc Software Systems, Department of Computer Science

Formulate methods of solution for a variety of mathematical problems and provide a theoretical justification for the methods.
BSc Mathematics, Department of Mathematical Sciences                               

Apply principles of evidence-based practice to the safe and effective management of patients.
MPharm Pharmacy, Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology

Analyse and solve a variety of problems in physics by means of the appropriate application of physical principles and mathematical techniques.
BSc Physics, Department of Physics

Select and utilise appropriate practical methods, models, techniques and tools for the specification, design, construction, documentation and validation of computer-based system.
BSc Computer Science, Department of Computer Science

By the end of the course you will be able to…

Use state-of-the-art business analytics software.
MSc in Business Analytics (PGT Early Adopter)

Critique current business analytics research.
MSc in Business Analytics (PGT Early Adopter)

Develop specialised business analytics models for problems arising in specific contexts.
MSc in Business Analytics (PGT Early Adopter)

Analyse quantitative data and apply statistical techniques appropriately.
BSc Management

Exercise independent judgement and construct a reasoned argument accompanied by evidence in support of conclusions.
BSc International Managemen

Analyse and discuss financial information in a business context, identifying the most relevant data to inform decision making.
MSc in Financ

Identify, reflect upon, and engage critically with appropriate and representative literature in the field of business and management.
MBA Executive

Was this article helpful?

Related Articles