In-depth chapter on learning outcome descriptors - Fleksibel utdanning Norge

The goal of a study programme or course is for the students to acquire or develop knowledge, skills and general competence. The learning outcome objectives in the formal education system are based on the Norwegian Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (NQF). (40) The NQF has been developed in Norway on the basis of the European Qualifications Framework and European cooperation to promote quality in education, mobility between countries and facilitate lifelong learning.

The introduction to the NQF states:

The aim of the level descriptors is to describe the knowledge, skills and general competence that all candidates who have completed an education at the level in question are expected to have achieved, regardless of the subject area in which the education is taken.

The general learning outcome descriptors are sorted into three categories: knowledge, skills and general competence. In the matrix below, we have selected an example from each of the three categories as the NQF presents them at six qualifications levels in the Norwegian education system. The purpose of this is to show that the complexity of the various forms of learning outcome increases with level.

Upper secondary level
Subject-related skills
and vocational competence (level 4A)
Tertiary vocational training 1
(Level 5)
Tertiary vocational training 2
(Level 5)
The candidate…
– has knowledge of relevant concepts, models and principles
in the subject area
– has knowledge of concepts, processes and tools that
are used in a
specialised field of work
– has knowledge of concepts, theories, models processes and tools that are used in a specialised field of work
The candidate…
– can analyse and assess different types of sources of relevance to his/her own work– can find information and material that is relevant to a vocational problem– can find and refer to
information and vocational material andassess its relevance to a vocational issue
General competence
The candidate…
– can plan and organise
work independently and in cooperation with others
– can plan and
carry out vocational
tasks and projects alone or as part of a group and in accordance with ethical requirements and principles
– can plan and carry out vocational tasks and projects alone or as part of a group and in accordance with ethical requirements and principles
Upper secondary level
Higher education entrance requirements
(Level 4B)
Cycle 1
(level 6)
Cycle 2
(level 7)
The candidate…
– has knowledge of important facts, concepts, theories,
principles and methods in different subjects
– has broad knowledge important topics, theories, issues, processes, tools and methods within the academic field– has advanced knowledge within the academic field and specialised insight in a limited area
The candidate…
– can analyse and assess
different types of sources
– can find, evaluate and
refer to information and scholarly subject matter and present it in a manner that sheds light on the problem
– can analyse and deal critically with various sources of information and use them to
structure and formulate scholarly arguments
General competence
The candidate…
– can work independently and take responsibility for ensuring that work
is carried out with the required craftsmanship in accordance with legislation, regulations and established
ethical standards in the trade/field in question
– can plan and carry out varied assignments and projects over time, alone or as part of a group and in accordance with ethical requirements and principles– can apply his/her knowledge and skills in new areas in order to carry out advanced
assignments and projects

The choice of verbs in each learning outcome descriptor is important. The verb is intended to indicate what the student should know and be able to do, and how complex the outcome should be. The NQF uses general wording for learning outcomes at all overarching levels (programmes). The learning outcome descriptors for the topics and subjects in the programmes shall be derived from and related to the descriptions at programme level.

Programmes and courses must be structured and organised so that learning activities and forms of assessment help students achieve the learning outcomes. (41)

The planning must also ensure optimal correlation between these factors. The European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) has, among other things, published a manual for institutions’ benchmarking of quality. It states the following about how to document the relationship between learning outcome descriptors, learning activities and assessment:

Each course should include a clear statement of the learning outcomes to be achieved on successful completion. (…) The development of each course should include a clearly documented course specification which sets out the relationship between learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment. (…) (42)


Educational taxonomies can be useful tools when learning outcome descriptors are to be drawn up. An educational taxonomy is a classification system that covers a breadth of activities from learning facts to developing independent assessment and reflection. The different academic disciplines have their specific taxonomies.

Here we refer to what is often called Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy. (43) It is probably the most used taxonomy in our part of the world, but it has its limitations. It only covers the cognitive domain, while it may also be desirable to develop competence in other areas as well, such as psycho-motor or affective competence.

Pyramide med, fra nederst til øverst: kunnskap, forståelse, anvendelse, analyse, syntese, vurdering
Figure 7 Bloom’s taxonomy

Under each level, active verbs in the present tense can be selected to describe what the student is able to do at the end of the programme. Some verbs are repeated from level to level, as it is the context that determines the complexity and level in the NQF (or age level in the curriculum) they reflect, for example:

Evaluationappraise, assess, discuss, conclude, defend, decide, examine, justify, make decisions, compare value, distinguish between, accept/reject, criticise, anticipate
Synthesiscombine, relate, derive, propose, select, clarify, plan, summarise, document, generalise, organise, formulate rules, draw conclusions, collect, combine, reconstruct
Analysisanalyse, derive, divide, find out, select, confirm, single out, investigate, account for, classify, identify, compare, experiment, calculate, categorise, discuss
Applicationpredict, select, explain, use, construct, find, calculate, apply, record, organise, demonstrate, tell (in own words), modify, manipulate, complete
Comprehensionreproduce, explain, confirm, demonstrate, interpret, show, predict, formulate, differentiate, translate, designate, solve, express, select, report, interpret
Knowledgerecognise, reproduce, repeat, specify, define, describe, reference, name, list, discern, present, underline, arrange, cite, collect, show

A good tip when writing learning outcome descriptors is to imagine the graduates in a work situation. Start with the practical and theoretical issues they will be applying their knowledge to, the relevant academic tools, materials, techniques and forms of expression they should be able to apply, and which professional choices they should be able to explain. (44)


  1. 40

    Nasjonalt kvalifikasjonsrammeverk for livslang læring (NKR), fastsatt av Kunnskapsdepartementet 15.12.2011

  2. 41

    Fagskoletilsynsforskriften (2020) Forskrift om akkreditering av og tilsyn med høyere yrkesfaglig utdanning § 2-1; studietilsynsforskriften (2017)  og Forskrift om tilsyn med utdanningskvaliteten i høyere utdanning § 2-2 (5

  3. 42

    EADTU, E-xcellence Quality Assessment for E-learning: a Benchmarking Approach (2012) 2. utg

  4. 43

    Taksonomien har utviklet seg, men vi henviser her til den publiserte håndboka fra 1956: Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H. & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Handbook I: cognitive domain. New York: David McKay.

  5. 44

    Eigil Norén (10.11.2021) Hvordan jobbe systematisk med å utvikle læringsutbyttebeskrivelser [innlegg] Fagskolekonferansen, Lillestrøm

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