Beyond Learning Objectives: A Taxonomy to Maximize Outcomes

49 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2017 Last revised: 20 Jan 2017

See all articles by Hillary Burgess

Hillary Burgess

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: January 14, 2017


If Paul Revere were part of the contemporary legal academy, he might ride out of Boston warning the legal academy, “Outcome Measurements are Coming!” The shift from past accreditation standards to current and future accreditation standards requires such warning and preparation. It is a fundamental shift that could cajole law schools to fundamentally revise their curricula, courses, teaching methods, and assessments. This article will provide a framework of learning objectives that will help law schools revise curricula and courses to meet the coming outcome measurement accreditation standards in the new legal education marketplace.

In the past, the ABA has accredited law schools based on inputs. Specifically, law schools needed to attract a certain caliber of student as measured by GPA and LSAT score. Currently, the ABA has moved toward accreditation standards based on outcome measurements rather than inputs. Law schools will no longer be able to provide curricula as the primary means for judging the quality of the educational program. Rather, schools are going to have to produce data that students met the learning objectives of the curricula. This shift is subtle, yet fundamental. It is no longer acceptable to simply teach the learning objectives. Students must also learn. And law schools must be able to prove that students learned. With the recent decline in law school applications, faculty are faced with a student body that is less and less prepared to begin a traditional legal curriculum.

Thus, law schools must provide more training and prove more results with students who struggle more. And, this task must be done in an economically viable manner. This “new normal” might seem to present the academy with an insurmountable challenge. However, with curricula that are optimally structured to follow the natural progression of human learning, this otherwise overwhelming challenge becomes possible.

This article provides a Taxonomy of Cognitive Legal Learning Objectives and Outcome Measurements. The taxonomy can help both the ABA and schools develop standardized language used to communicate learning and assessment objectives. The taxonomy provides a guide as to how to write curricular and course learning objectives.

The taxonomy also guides law schools to structure curricula and courses to meet these learning objectives to create positive outcome measurements. Specifically, by creating curricula that mimics the natural progression of adult human learning, law students will be able to learn more efficiently and law professors of all experience levels can avoid misalignment between instruction, learning, and assessment. Additionally, by setting learning objectives that internalize the shift to measuring what students should be able to do (the measurable outcomes), the learning objectives could more closely align with measuring and proving student learning.

In this article, I discuss what learning objectives, assessment objectives, and outcome measurements are and how to write them. Then I review existing taxonomies of learning objectives and discuss why the legal academy could benefit from a discipline-specific taxonomy of cognitive legal learning objectives. I then provide an introduction to Taxonomy of Cognitive Legal Learning Objectives and Outcome Measurements with descriptions of each of the general levels of legal learning objectives. Detailed descriptions of each dimension of the taxonomy will follow in subsequent papers, as will teaching and assessment tips that address specific and discreet learning objectives.

Keywords: legal education, learning objectives, outcome measurements, accreditation, standard 302, ABA

JEL Classification: K10, L23, L24, K00

Suggested Citation

Burgess, Hillary, Beyond Learning Objectives: A Taxonomy to Maximize Outcomes (January 14, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Hillary Burgess (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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