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Module and Programme Design

Programme Aims and Outcomes

Programme aims are concerned with teaching and the instructor’s intentions, whilst learning outcomes are concerned with what the student will learn. Moon (2002) suggests that one way to distinguish programme aims from learning outcomes is that aims indicate the general content, direction and intentions behind the programme from the designer or teacher’s point of view. Programme aims describe the intention of the entire programme, and can be written as follows:

The programme…:

  • prepares students to/for…;
  • develops competences in the areas of… 
  • provides students with...

What is a programme outcome? 

A programme outcome is what a typical student is expected to achieve through engagement in and completion of the programme. The programme outcomes are the knowledge, skills and attitudes students should possess when they graduate.

The key characteristics of programme outcomes are that they are:

  • Student focused;
  • High-level outcomes that are greater in scope and complexity than module outcomes,
  • Guided by professional, disciplinary, inter-disciplinary and institutional graduate attributes;
  • Informed by international, national and institutional level guidelines.

The group exercise Meeting a Group of Graduates may help with this. 

Why Write Programme Outcomes?

  • To be clear and transparent to all stakeholders in describing what students completing the programme will achieve
  • To revitalise and re-energise the curriculum for staff and students
  • To act as the key starting point in a curriculum (re-) design process for the purpose of choosing appropriate teaching, learning and assessment strategies
  • To make the research development outcomes of the programme explicit
  • To develop a shared understanding of and coherence in the programme
  • To build in the development of transferable skills and values that can be formatively and summatively assessed in the programme
  • To assist in the design of an efficient assessment system for the programme as a whole and reduce the assessment load for students and staff
  • To inform the design of the sequencing of learning activities
  • To engage with the institution-wide ambition of an outcomes-led curriculum

Practical Guidelines and Examples for Writing Programme Outcomes 

  • Each programme outcome should articulate a high-level ability that the student will have developed.
  • As programme outcomes are intended as an overview, a useful number of outcomes for a masters programme is 6-8 and for an undergraduate programme is 8-12. Some programmes may also have a further extended list to meet the needs of professional bodies.
  • Write the outcomes in clear English so that it is evident to multiple audiences what students are expected to achieve through the programme. 
  • Use action verbs when writing the outcomes to show what students will be able to know and do.
  • Align the outcomes with international, national, and institutional outcomes (together with professional outcomes where appropriate).
  • Decide whether you want to embed key transferable skills with related disciplinary knowledge outcomes and/or write specific outcomes for transferable skills.
  • Peer review draft outcomes with key stakeholders.
  • Consider the order of the outcomes in relation to their importance to your programme, profession and discipline.


Consider in your Programme Outcomes a balance between cognitive, affective and psychomotor outcomes (Anderson, 2001). Another way of looking at this is a balance between areas in the curriculum that are related to knowledge, action and self (Barnett & Coates, 2005b).

Similar to module design, the literature on Guide to Taxonomies of Learning can provide some guidance to a balance of outcomes and ideas for the verbs used to describe these. For programme outcomes, see some of the wider more comprehensive taxonomies, such as Finks (2003).



  • Anderson, L.W., Krathwohl, D.R., Airsian, P.W., Cruickshank, K.A., Mayer, R.E., Pintrich, P.R., Raths, J., Wittrock. (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Longman: London.
  • Barnett, R. & Coates, K. (2005b). A schema. In Engaging the curriculum in higher education (pp67-69). Berkshire: SRHE & Open University Press.
  • Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. See also: http://www.deefinkandassociates.com/GuidetoCourseDesignAug05.pdf
  • Moon, J. (2002) The Module and Programme Development Handbook. London: Kogan Page Limited