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Learning Outcomes vs. Course Competencies

There is conflicting information between learning outcomes and course competencies. Even in the education literature, the usage of these terms seems contradictory at times (Hartel & Foegeding, 2004).  At EMCC, we have defined competency and learning outcomes as follows: 

Competency - A competency details the knowledge and skills of students who complete a course or program. Provides faculty structure for the course and content to cover. Provides information to universities as to what was covered in the class for articulation purposes.  

Learning Outcome - A learning outcome articulates what students will be able to do in both the course and more broadly.   Learning outcomes are focused on what students can do upon completion of a course, program or degree/certificate completion.  

Please note that many courses, such as physics, have changed their course competencies to mirror learning outcomes.  So, this may cause confusion for some areas.  

Source: Hartel, R., & Foegeding, E. (2004). Learning: Objectives, Competencies, Outcomes? Journal of Food Science Education, Vol. 3, 69-70.


Definition:  Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) are statements that describe significant and essential learning that learners have achieved and can reliably demonstrate at the end of a course, program, or activity.  

Source: Shirley Lesch, George Brown College

Classroom Example

A nutrition class may have competencies of:

  • Explain the basic concepts of scientific method as applied to nutritional information
  • Identify the relationship between nutrition and other factors in maintaining optimal health and nutritional status during the lifecycle
  • Use food guides, diet planning principles, nutrition-related tables, food labels, and/or exchanges to plan, calculate, and/or evaluate food and beverage intake

But, a student learning outcome for the course might be: At the end of this course, the student will create a plan to correct a documented nutritional problem.

Out of Class Example

An Internship may have functions of:

  • Review print collateral and digital marketing materials for compliance and graphic standards
  • Update and/or rework of existing print collateral and digital materials
  • Assist with development of new projects

But, a student learning outcome would be: Upon completion of an internship, students will define industry expectations and the components of planning for a career in marketing.