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Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

Careful planning helps teachers avoid some common pitfalls when setting learning outcomes for teaching and learning activities. The Table below lists some ways that these might be avoided.

Some pitfalls …and how to avoid them
Trying to achieve too much in one session Plan the session carefully, and allow time for discussion, activities and reflection
Trying to cover too many learning outcomes Stick to a small number of learning outcomes (fewer than five) and be as specific as you can in terms of exactly what you are expecting the learners to be able to do at the end of the session
Learning outcomes not linked to the programme or to learner needs (level, etc.) Make sure you know and understand the programme outcomes, the assessments the learners are working towards and the expectations of you by course organisers, particularly the outcomes and assessments that relate specifically to your session(s)
Include informal and formal activities that help you understand and identify the needs of the learners

Learning outcomes defined at the wrong level (re Bloom)
Think carefully about exactly what you are expecting the learners to be able to do, think about their ‘learning journey’: their prior learning and the stage they have reached
Learning outcomes in the wrong domain (re Bloom: cognitive, psychomotor, affective) Map the learning outcomes on to the domains, split objectives that cover more than one domain and design the teaching to enable learners to achieve all the outcomes. If you are assuming that learners have the underpinning knowledge or earlier practice to carry out a complex skill, check it out, or break the skill down into sub-objectives 
Learning outcomes not specific enough, don’t define exactly what you want them to be able to do Practise writing them and think about how you might assess the objective
Learning outcomes not linked to teaching and learning methods Select the teaching and learning methods that help learners achieve the outcome (level, domain), e.g. if skills, need demonstration, practice (simulation – real), possibly broken down into steps, build in feedback, not just reading about it or watching a video
Learning outcomes not linked to assessment Always link the learning outcomes to an assessment (formative or summative), i.e. how will you and the learner know that they have achieved the outcome satisfactorily? Make sure the assessment assesses the right domain so that skills are assessed by practical clinical assessments such as OSCEs
Learning outcomes not practical or feasible Often there are too many learning outcomes specified to be covered in the time available or with the number or stage of learners. Check out equipment, rooms, other resources and facilities
Learning outcomes not linked to evaluation, little capacity to review and change If you are told what the outcomes are rather than setting them for yourself, be aware of the process by which you can feed back to course organisers about how the session has worked. Think about making the links between learning outcomes, teaching and learning methods, assessment and evaluation transparent so that you can refresh the curriculum. Don’t assume that the learning outcomes are set in stone. Update them according to external changes, research and medical advances

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