Skip navigation

Printable Resources

Back to 6 Golden Rules

Best Practice in Writing Learning Outcomes – Rule Number 6

Regard outcomes as general performance indicators that guide the judgement of academic assessors rather than definitive threshold statements.

The idea that outcomes can be definitive in Higher Education is a fallacy because neither competence nor proficiency, at the higher levels of Blooms taxonomy,is a static attribute. Whatever the field, expertise and knowledge are always developing. 

Suggesting to students in Higher Education that there are authoritative and fixed definitions of mastery is to do them a great disservice in a world of fast moving technological change. What is considered current best practice is always context dependent. Over-prescriptive outcomes can actively discourage the very kind of original thinking necessary for advances in human understanding.

For further reading on this issue we recommend, in particular:

Barnett R. (1994) The Limits of Competence Buckingham, Society for Research into Higher Education / Open University Press.


Wolf, A. (1995) Competence-based Assessment Buckingham, Open University Press.

Printable Resources

1. Biggs, J. (2003) Teaching for Quality Learning at University (2nd Edition) Maidenhead, UK. HRE / Open University Press.

2. Rust, C, Price, M. A. & O’Donovan, B. (2003) Improving Students’ Learning by Developing their Understanding of Assessment Criteria and Processes Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 28.2, 147 – 164.

3. Spady, W. G. (1994) An Appeal to Objective Dialogue: A Response to Schlafly and LaHaye. School Administrator, 51:30–1.

4. Spady, W. G. (1988) Organising for Results: The Basis of Authentic Restructuring and Reform. Educational Leadership, 46:4–8.

5. Rees, C. E  (2004) The Problem with Outcomes-based Curricula in Medical Education: Insights from Educational Theory Medical Education, 38: 593–598.

6. Harden, R. M. (2002) Developments in Outcome-based Education Medical Teacher, 24:117–20.

7. Hussey, T & Smith, P. (2002) The Trouble with Learning Outcomes, Active Learning in Higher Education, 3:220–233.

8. Ecclestone K (1994) Democratic Values and Purposes: The Overlooked Challenge of Competence Journal of Educational Studies 20, 2.

9. Stenhouse, L. (1986) An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development. London, Heinemann.

10. Eraut, M. (1994) Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence  London. Falmer.

T and L Community