Teaching: Developing learning outcomes

Last updated: Monday, July 03, 2023

If you are delivering some planned teaching once you have established what your learners need to learn, the next step is to develop their learning outcomes. This simply means what they will learn as a result of your teaching. Getting your learning outcomes sorted at the outset will help to keep you on track as you develop your teaching, ensuring that you keep the content relevant and your aims realistic. 

Not all teaching you do in the workplace will have learning outcomes specified at the outset. Sometimes an opportunity will present itself that you can use to teach others in real time, such as a patient with an interesting drug history on a ward round.

Learning outcomes should be measurable, and so they shouldn’t be too broad (e.g. Be able to discuss the pharmacology of cardiovascular medicines). However don’t make them too narrow either, or you will have too many (e.g. Be able to predict whether oxycodone 7.5mg would be compatible with midazolam 5mg in a syringe driver). They should also be achievable in the time that you have; you cannot cover the contents of the BNF if you have been given 30 minutes.

When writing learning outcomes, you are aiming to complete the sentence ’By the end of the teaching, the learner will be able to …..’.
Example learning outcomes
  • Describe the risks of using SSRIs in a patient with liver cirrhosis 
  • Identify the excipients in a medicine
  • Submit a Yellow Card to the MHRA 
  • Demonstrate how to dispense a dosette box 
  • Describe why diversity in the workplace is important
  • Behave in a professional and ethical manner  

What your learners need to learn can be organised into three different groups or ‘domains’; knowledge, skills and attitudes. Using the examples above, describing the risks of SSRIs and listing excipients requires the learner to have knowledge of these clinical situations. Demonstrating how to perform a task such as submitting a Yellow Card or dispensing a dosette box is a skill, and valuing diversity and behaving in a particular manner is an attitude.

Each domain can be divided further, according to the depth of learning that is required. For example, imagine you are teaching learners knowledge about the concept of numbers needed to treat (NNT). If the students need to be apply the equation to compare the effectiveness of 2 different treatments this will require a greater depth of understanding compared them simply being able to remember the equation.

The table below lists the different levels for knowledge, skills and attitudes in order of increasing depth of understanding required of the learner. The simplest concepts are at the top, becoming more complex as you move down. 

It is important to think about whether you are teaching knowledge or a skill or attitude, and the level of learning that is required as this will help you to choose the right words to use when writing your learning outcomes, and to decide on the most effective teaching method.

You establish that your trainee pharmacists need to learn about the clinical use of medicines use for patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Think about whether this falls mainly into the knowledge, skills or attitudes domain and then practise writing two learning outcomes, starting with ‘By the end of my teaching, the trainee pharmacists will be able to….’    Consider, then click for some suggestions.

Some suggestions
Learning about the clinical use of medicines is most likely to be classed as knowledge, but some learning outcomes might fall into the skills or attitudes domains. Some example learning outcomes are;

  • Discuss the benefits of first-line pharmacological treatments for patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus 
  • Outline the second and third-line options, if first-line treatments are ineffective 
  • List the common side effects associated with oral treatments for type 2 diabetes mellitus 
  • Demonstrate how to clinically screen a prescription for oral diabetes mellitus medicines 
  • Recognise the barriers to compliance for patients with oral treatments for type 2 diabetes mellitus and how to address them