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Assessment Process


Most of us, in our research, accept the need to be explicit in our goals, and open to empirical evaluation of whether we have achieved those goals. The same goes for our teaching. Just as with our research, explicit reflection on outcomes does not preclude unexpected results, insights or twists and turns along the way – the things that make both research and teaching to rewarding and exciting.

This figure summarizes the key components associated with the assessment of student learning. While the figure illustrates this process as a sequential cycle of steps, the order can vary; for example, designing measures of student learning can lead to rethinking some course objectives or learning outcomes.

Learn more about two key steps in the process below.

Developing Learning Outcomes

In designing learning outcomes, it is important to begin with the end in mind, a process commonly referred to as “backward design.” Using backward design, instructors think about the kind of learning or thinking that they want their students to achieve by the end of a lesson, module, course, program, workshop, or activity.

Student learning can take place in any or all of the three main domains of learning:

Cognitive Learning (mental skills, knowledge)

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy lists the top three items as: Creating, Evaluating and Analyzing. The second level lists Applying. The bottom and third level contains Understanding and Remembering.
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (above) is a useful way to distinguish between higher and lower order thinking. The taxonomy categorizes thinking into seven categories, distinguishing the higher orders of thinking (analyzing, evaluating and creating) from lower orders (remembering, understanding, and applying).

Examples of Cognitive Learning Outcomes


By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • evaluate core concepts related to the evolution of language
  • generate theories of syntax by analyzing linguistic evidence


Students will be able to:

  • analyze factors that support and compromise the body’s immune response
  • evaluate the treatments associated with common immune disorders


Students will be able to:

  • critique post-colonial theorists’ positions on the necessity of violence in formerly colonized regions
  • evaluate alternatives to the use of violence in post-colonial literature

Sociology/Public Health

Students will be able to:

  • analyze current threats to public health
  • evaluate short and long term prevention strategies to specific public health threats
  • create professional proposals that articulate strategies


Students will be able to:

  • construct clear, well-supported, and sustained arguments based on the collection, interpretation, and analysis of experimental data
  • form a hypothesis and evaluate it to justify a course of action
  • compose a written scientific report that contains well-supported argument


Students who engage in the programs, activities, and services provided by Northwestern Career Advancement will be able to:

  • apply career skills (e.g., resume writing, networking) to gain opportunities (e.g., internships, jobs) during and following their Northwestern experience

Affective Learning (feelings, values, etc ...) 

Affective learning focuses on feelings, values, appreciation, motivation and attitudes. Krathwohl, Bloom & Masia (1973) created a taxonomy to display five categories of affective learning, listed here in descending order from the most complex behavior to the simplest:

This is a depiction of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy. Remembering and Understanding are at the bottom, and above those are Applying, then above Applying is Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating.

Internalizing Values

Acts, influences, performs, qualifies, questions, revises, verifies, discriminates (e.g., shows self-reliance when working independently; cooperates in group activities; revises judgments.

Organizing Values

Adheres, alters, compares, defends, explains, formulates, generalizes, prepares, synthesizes (e.g., accepts professional ethical standards; accepts responsibility for behavior)


Completes, demonstrates, differentiates, explains, initiates, invites, justifies, proposes, reports, shares, studies (e.g., is sensitive to cultural differences; values diversity; shows ability to solve problems.

Responding to Phenomena

Answers, assists, conforms, discusses, performs, practices, presents, reads, recites, selects, tells, writes (e.g., participates in class discussion; questions new concepts; knows & practices safety rules)

Receiving Phenomena

Asks, chooses, describes, follows, gives, holds identifies, locates, names, replies (e.g., listens to others with respect)

Examples of Affective Learning Outcomes


Students will be able to:

  • contribute meaningfully to class discussion by identifying their own questions about the readings
  • articulate their insights about the readings
  • respond respectfully to others’ comments.


Students will be able to:

  • work collaboratively in a group setting
  • display leadership by keeping the team on task, while listening carefully to the ideas of others
  • articulate and display the professional ethical standards of the field.


Students who participate in sustained dialogue will be able to:

  • articulate how their social identifies inform their beliefs, values, attitudes and emotions.

Psychomotor Learning (physical skills)

Learning in this domain includes physical movement, coordination, and use of the motor-skill areas. These might focus on speed and efficiency, precision, procedures, or techniques in execution. Dave’s (1975) taxonomy is shown here, in descending order from most complex ability to least complex.

This is a depiction of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy. Remembering and Understanding are at the bottom, and above those are Applying, then above Applying is Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating.


Design, develop, master (e.g., mastering a high level performance until it becomes second nature or natural)


Adapt, constructs creates, modifies (e.g., combines a series of skills or activities to meet a novel requirement)


Calibrate, demonstrate, master, prefect (e.g., working and reworking something to be “right”; perform a skill or task without assistance; demonstrate task to beginner)


Act, execute, perform (e.g., being able to perform a skill of one’s own after taking lessons; follows instructions to build a model)


Copy, follow mimic, repeat, reproduce, trace, replicate (e.g., copying a work of art; performing a skill while observing a demonstrator)

Examples of Psychomotor Learning Outcomes


Students will be able to:

  • fabricate and assemble prosthetic/orthotic devices, specific to the needs of the patient.


Students will be able to:

  • master a violin piece, playing with speed, accuracy, and technical precision
  • interpret piano sonata musically, by using tempo and dynamic variations, to convey personal meaning. (Note: this objective might also be considered affective).


Students will be able to:

  • creates five distinct characters with a variety of physical demands.


Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., & Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. Allyn & Bacon.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. ASCD.

Creating and Using Assessments

Selecting and Designing Criteria,Measures, Activities, and Assignments

After the learning outcomes have been defined, the instructor should identify or design assessments that will best capture the achievement of those objectives. These may be activities/measures/assignments designed to do such things as:

  • gauge grasp of knowledge, concepts, and skills
  • demonstrate critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making
  • encourage choice, creativity, and reflection
  • promote interpersonal skills (peer, group, and teamwork)
  • support personal development/identity exploration
  • encourage practical skills

In order to select and design criteria for determining the extent to which students have met the objectives, the instructor might consider:

  • purpose of the assessment
  • quality of the assessment
  • standards to which student performance will be compared

Thinking about assessment can lead instructors to refine learning outcomes. For example, if an instructor wants students to give particular types of answers to a final exam question, that means the ability to do so can be considered one of the learning outcomes for the course.

Examining Evidence of Learning (Learning Outcomes)

Evidence of learning is determined by examining the extent to which students have achieved the stated learning objectives (e.g. their ability to demonstrate knowledge, capabilities, and ways of thinking related to the learning objectives).It is important to ask then, to what degree, did students learn what was intended?

Evidence of learning may be demonstrated by:

  • improvement across drafts
  • improved performance over time
  • pre-post conceptual or knowledge checks
  • mastery of skills
  • achievement of core competencies
  • ability to perform specific tasks

Identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, and Gaps (Evaluation)

Reflecting on the learning experience of students is crucial for improving teaching. Instructors might ask themselves a series of questions—What worked well? What methods, activities, strategies, materials, etc., could have been improved? What parts of the course or instruction should I retain? What parts should I rethink or replace? The instructor should gather information about the overall course and instruction, and the impact on the learning experience, through:

  • student performance on assignments and activities intended to assess achievement of learning outcomes
  • review of course materials and assignments for clarity, sense, content, and level of challenge
  • informal or formal surveys
  • classroom assessment techniques
  • mid-course checks
  • end-of-term focus groups
  • CTECs
  • canvas learning analytics

Putting the Findings to Use

Instructors (or program administrators) should think about what, if anything, should be changed in the next iteration of the course or program. Such changes might occur if baseline data have already been captured, and there is interest in deploying a new initiative or innovation, or if an instructor or program administrator would like to improve the learning outcomes or the assessment measures.

At this point, an instructor (or program administrator) might ask:

  • Do the learning objectives need to be redefined?
  • Should the teaching strategy be modified?
  • Do the course or program elements need to be refined?
  • Should the course or program activities and assessments be changed or adjusted?

Contact Us

Contact us to learn more about implementing assessment in your courses or programs.

Lina Rombalsky Eskew
Assistant Director of Equitable Assessment
Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching