Teaching & Learning

How to write ILOs

5 Steps to writing ILOs

It can be useful to consider using the following 5-step process in designing ILOs:

  1. Decide on the Purpose
  2. Identify the Content
  3. Select the Appropriate Verb
  4. Add the Context (when necessary)
  5. Ensure Clarity

Below is more information about each of these steps, with reference to the examples on the Components of an ILO page.


1 2 3 4 5

Step 3: Verb

A diagram depicting four components of an ILO: Content, Verb, Content, and clarity. Verb is emphasised in orange. 

Once the content has been defined, consider the level of cognitive activity with which the student will be expected to engage. That is, what level of thinking do you want students to be using in relation to the content? In an intended learning outcome, this level of cognitive engagement can be expressed with a verb. This identifies what the student is expected to do with the content. To help you in selecting an appropriate verb that communicates the cognitive level, you might use a taxonomy of learning behaviour. Two of these which are particularly helpful in considering levels of cognition are the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982), and Bloom's revised taxonomy (Anderson, Krathwohl, & Bloom, 2001). Other factors which affect the best choice of verb include the location of the unit in the course, and whether the knowledge is declarative or functional.

Location in the Course

When considering these taxonomies and what your expectations of students are, the location of the unit within the broader course, and the Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) will be quite important. For example, it is likely that a first-year, first semester unit, would have expectations of a lower level of cognitive activity, a simpler context, or a less complex set of content than a second or third year unit. It is also important to review the CLOs to determine the level of cognitive activity expected of students at completion of the course as a whole, and the way in which your unit needs to contribute to students' development of these.

Declarative or Functional Knowledge

In selecting the most appropriate verb for your ILO, it is also vital to consider whether students are expected to know about the content (declarative knowledge), or whether they are expected to exercise control over problems and decisions that involve the content (functioning knowledge). Put more simply, do you want students to tell you what they know (declarative), or do you want them to show you how they can use it (functioning)? It is important that each ILO makes clear which of these two types of knowledge is expected, and it is typically the verb which is used to do this.

Taxonomies of learning objectives with useful verb lists

SOLO Taxonomy

The Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy is organised into 5 levels of understanding: pre-structural, uni-structural, multi-structural, relational and extended abstract. An elegant visual representation of these levels can be found on James Atherton's website. A poster designed by Nick Denton to help school students understand the levels provides a different graphical representation, and includes a number of verbs that might be used in an intended learning outcome at each level. The diagram on John Biggs' website also provides a list of verbs which might be used to communicate the level of complexity with which students are expected to engage with your content.

Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy

Anderson, Krathwohl, and Bloom's (2001) revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives organises itself along two dimensions – cognitive processes and knowledge. The cognitive processes dimension contains 6 levels of complexity: remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate, and create. The knowledge dimension contains four categories: factual, conceptual, procedural and metacognitive. This taxonomy assists you to think about both the complexity of cognitive processes expected of the students, and the type of knowledge they are engaging with. It may be useful to revisit the content you have identified and consider where it fits in the knowledge dimension. Rex Heer (2009) provides a useful interactive model that combines both dimensions, and suggests simple learning objectives that might align with each dimensional intersection. There are plenty of other resources available online that provide graphical representations of this revision of Bloom's taxonomy – if you enter the key words bloom, revised and taxonomy into a Google image search, pages of results will be displayed.

Psychomotor Domain Taxonomies

For those working in language teaching and motor-area skills related disciplines, such as engineering or dance, taxonomies addressing the psychomotor domains could be useful. Ferris and Aziz's (2005) taxonomy for engineering, for example, contains a hierarchy of 7 categories, summarised as: recognition, handling, basic operation, competent operation, expert operation, planning of operations, and evaluation and planning improvement. See also Dave (1970), Simpson (1974), and Harrow (1972) for variations of psychomotor domain taxonomies.

Biggs and Tang (2011) provide useful tables of verbs from both the SOLO and Bloom's revised taxonomies on pages 124 and 125 of Teaching for Quality Learning at University.

Examples

In our first example, we considered the purpose of a first-year, first semester unit. In reading the purpose, it seems as though the focus is mostly on the knowing of the laws and related concepts. The purpose does not suggest that students will be required to use the knowledge. Therefore, verbs that communicate the expectation of declarative knowledge would be most appropriate. As the unit occurs at the start of the course, the highest level of cognitive activity might not yet be expected, but as the content is likely a requisite for future units, a deep level of understanding may be required. Therefore, some possibilities for appropriate verbs might include, from lowest to highest:

ILO Example 1, verb:

describe, explain, generalise

The second example is also a first-year unit, typically offered in second semester, with a first-semester unit as a pre-requisite, and itself serving as a pre-requisite for multiple second year units. The type of knowledge required is functioning. Some possible verbs might be:

ILO Example 2, verb:

apply, dramatise, interpret, solve problem, assess

The third example, from a post-graduate course, requires functioning knowledge and the highest level of cognitive activity. Appropriate verbs therefore, might be:

ILO Example 3, verb:

Reflect and improve, critically reflect, apply a process