Intended Learning Outcomes: Friend or Foe?

Ulrich Hommel

Ulrich Hommel is the Director of Business School Development at EFMD Global Network and, in this role, is responsible for professional development activities offered by EFMD GN.

Chris Greensted

Senior Advisors in the EFMD Quality Services Department

Latest posts by Chris Greensted (see all)


Intended Learning Outcomes are a key aspect of programme accreditation yet they seem to cause many schools and programme directors considerable difficulty or even resistance. Chris Greensted and Ulrich Hommel examine the issues.

Put simply, ILOs are a statement of what a student will know and be able to do at the end of a (degree) programme or at the end of each component course (module) of the degree. This definition of ILOs is easy to say but it is not so easy to develop ILOs in practice.

In the “good old days”, programme designers used to write out the programme objectives and ask faculty members to write course objectives consistent with them. Faculty then developed a syllabus for their course and possibly a supplementary note on how the course would be assessed.

There was an expectation that in this way the programme objectives would be achieved but there was no guarantee that this process would work. The problem with programme objectives is that they do not show how achieving them will be implemented and measured.

We can take an analogy from cookery. The objective is to bake a cake. The equivalent of the syllabus is the list of ingredients for the cake but with no measures given and no recipe. Different cooks will produce different cakes with the same ingredients and sometimes no cake at all.

To ensure a consistent cake from all the cooks there needs to be a recipe that includes measures and process. Even then, the quality of the cake may vary but at least the product is recognisable as a cake resembling the picture in the book!

Learning outcomes are essentially about performance and they are the implementation tools for the objectives. So it is necessary to have both objectives and ILOs. The programme objectives statement is likely to be quite short, stating what the programme is aiming to achieve and for whom.

Programme-level ILOs are derived from the objectives and serve as the starting point for the curriculum design. Then there should be a coherent structure of ILOs at programme and course levels. Achievement at programme level will ensure that the programme’s objectives are met while achievement of ILOs for each course will ensure that overall the programme or degree ILOs have also been achieved.

ILOs should not only be clearly written but their achievement should also be measurable in some form.

For the full article, please read the PDF or listen to the Podcast and find out about principles for developing ILOs.

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