Learning outcomes are often misunderstood within my discipline of faculty support/instructional design. Instructors often don't understand the importance of learning outcomes at the program, course, and topic level.
Kelly Brennan has already shared a bit of our mapping analogy for learning outcomes, but here's another perspective.
Learning outcomes, from the perspective of the instructor, should be emphasized at three levels:
Let's consider the act of knitting a blanket full of different patches.
Level 1: Program Level (aka 'The Pattern')
At this level, our learning outcomes can be compared to the pattern of a blanket you want to knit. At a big picture level, you can see the pieces that should be completed/accomplished by the end of the project (program/degree, etc.), and the types of stitches, tools, and yarn that are required to get there.
Without previous experience in knitting, you would have a hard time sorting through how you would get from the pattern on paper to a finished product. That is, a student entering their first year of university may know that they want to walk out with a biochemistry degree, and may have a list of things they will be able to do when they graduate, but they don't have the skills to get there yet. They can't knit a blanket.
Level 2: Course Level (aka 'The Tools and Patches')
At this level, you are helping students as they start building pieces of the blanket. Within each course, you are providing different needles and yarn that will help students gain the experience needed to be successful in knitting a patch for the blanket (or, passing a course such as Biology I). At the big picture level here, a student would have the knitting needles and some colourful yellow yarn in front of them. They know that at the end of the course, they will be able to knit a small yellow patch for their bigger blanket, but they may need a little guidance to get to their finished yellow patch.
Level 3: Topic Level (aka 'The YouTube Tutorial' or 'How-To Book')
At this level, you are walking students through the how-tos of successfully using the needles and yarn to create a finished yellow patch. You are creating small bench marks to help them succeed throughout their course in smaller increments. (This week, we will learn to cast on. Next week, we will learn the "purl" stitch.) Ideally, at the end of this level, students should have a finished patch - and an A on their transcript for Biology I.
Then, start over...
Once you've got one patch for Biology I, you're ready to move onto a new patch in a different course, finishing with a wonderful blanket of different coloured, sized, or patterned patches at the end of your degree. Each student will be walking away with a slightly different blanket, but hopefully all products resemble blankets at the end!
Maybe someday your graduates can take those skills they've learned in their degrees and knit a sock instead?