Course design - Learning outcomes and assessment

After approval, the course design phase starts. This process includes the development of the learning outcomes of the course in detail. Based on the learning outcomes, the right work formats, course materials and assessment formats should be decided and developed. At the end of this phase the online course will be ready to be taught.

A well-designed course helps students to reach the learning outcomes. Since assessment measures if your students have reached these outcomes it is important that your outcomes are clearly formulated.

The learning outcomes of GSLS courses describe which knowledge, techniques and/or skills a student will possess after successful completion of the course. It is expected that each of the learning outcomes corresponds with one or more of the overarching GSLS learning outcomes students acquire during their Master’s programme.

Usually taking the form of a bullet-point list similar to “At the end of the course students:"

  • Learning outcome #1
  • Learning outcome #2

A learning outcome is a description of the behaviour a student is able to show after completing a course (or a lecture, a seminar, …).

Criteria for well-designed learning outcomes (Hoobroecks & Haak, 2002):

  • Design: Be specific, it should be clear what the student is able to show or know after successfully finishing the course.
  • Content: Define the topic you want your students to learn.
  • Behaviour: What should the student exactly do with the content? Usually it contains a verb that describes visible and measurable actions. Use words such as: name, explain, draw, describe, create, indicate, select, etcetera. This criterium is important to make your learning outcome measurable.
  • Conditions: Describe if any conditions are applicable. This is for instance the nature of the performance required as evidence that the learning outcome was achieved.

Example of learning outcomes for a course
At the end of the course students are able:

  • To select (behavior) a suitable analyze method for a biomedical problem (content) and explain (behavior) why this is the method of preference, based on the X-criteria (condition).
  • To formulate (behavior) a clear definition of a disease (content) and explain it to a real-life patient during a five-minute presentation (condition).
  • To name (behavior) the three most common types of dementia (content) and describe (behavior) how these types are recognizable in brain activity (content).

The School aims to deliver outstanding independent researchers in the field of Life Sciences. These researchers will be familiar with the latest developments in their field and be able to develop this scientific field further on the basis of scientific and socially relevant questions and challenges. Every Master’s graduate should, in principle, be able to qualify for a PhD position and preferably also have ambitions to pursue a career in scientific research.

To achieve this goal, the School supplies advanced research-intensive education in which education and research go hand in hand. An important underlying principle here is to ensure that students benefit optimally from the presence of top research and top researchers.

These objectives have been stated in terms of the learning outcomes below, which correspond to the widely used Dublin descriptors for Master’s programmes. The descriptors have been stated in terms specific to the entire field of Life Sciences. The individual Master’s programmes at the GSLS elaborate these School-wide learning objectives further at the programme level.

Knowledge and insights.
Graduates of the GSLS:

  • will be able, with the knowledge of at least one of the specialised subjects of Life Sciences, to make a substantial contribution to the development and/or application of scientific concepts and methods, often in a research context;
  • will be able to overview the important, recent developments within the Life Sciences and to point out the implications of these developments on the Life Sciences field and society;
  • will be able to adequately use and interpret specialist literature in at least one of the subjects of Life Sciences.

Apply knowledge and insights 

Graduates of the GSLS:

  • will be able to translate a Life Sciences problem into a relevant research question or approach, suitable for research development, product development, education or society;
  • will be able to design a suitable research plan to test the formulated research questions, according to methodological and scientific standards;
  • will be able to independently perform research, with the required accuracy. Graduates are able to handle, analyse, interpret and evaluate the empirically derived data in a correct manner.


Graduates of the GSLS: 

  • will be able to discuss the outcomes of empirical research and to link them with scientific theories;
  • will be able to indicate the importance of research activities for solving a biomedical question or problem, if applicable from a social perspective;
  • will be able to critically reflect on their own research work in Life Sciences, from a social perspective.


Graduates of the GSLS:

  • will be able to comprehensibly report research results verbally and in writing, to specialised and non-specialised audiences in an international context;
  • will function effectively in a multidisciplinary research team.

Learning skills 

Graduates of the GSLS:

  • will have the skills to reflect on their own development and study career, and, if necessary, to motivate themselves and make any necessary adjustments;
  • will have the skills to function independently and result-oriented in a competitive labour market;
  • will have the qualification to be eligible for a PhD position or a position in another sector of the labour market.

Assessment tasks are designed to enable clear judgements as to how well the learning outcomes have been achieved. For this reason, it is important that the assessment method matches with the knowledge, skills or attitudes you want your students to learn. Assessments can be designed in several ways, for example: a written or digital test, a presentation, an essay or research report, an oral exam, a practical assignment.

A (theoretical) course is assessed by the examiner (a staff member of Utrecht University or University Medical Center Utrecht). More information about the time limit for marking tests can be found in the Education and Examination Regulations.

Course coordinators are contacted by either the programme coordinators (Biomedical Sciences) or support staff (Biosciences) to fill in the assessment matrix43.5 KB that the Assessment Panel uses to perform the quality assurance.

The assessment matrix describes the relation between the learning outcomes and the assessment tasks. The assessment matrix forms the basis for the design and development of the assessment that matches the learning outcomes and learning activities of the course. Below more information about how to fill in the assessment matrix.

In the assessment matrix43.5 KB, we ask you to correlate the learning outcomes of the course with the GSLS learning objectives for students during their whole Master’s programme.

In the rows please copy your learning objectives on the y-axis of the table and in the columns over the x-axis please fill in your work formats and assessment formats specified earlier. Then it is possible to indicate which work and assessment formats are being used for each of the learning outcomes (overlap is possible of course), by marking the corresponding boxes with an “X”. In the last column you can add the codes of the GSLS learning objectives, which can be found on the second tab of the excel, corresponding with the course learning outcomes.