September 27, 2018

Student Learning Outcomes

As faculty members, we all have broad goals that we set out to accomplish in our courses. Often, these capture important domains within our fields and disciplines. Learning outcomes are concrete actions that student should be able to perform upon successful completion of the course. These can include demonstrating achievements in knowledge and competency areas, as well as improved abilities or changes to attitudes and values.

Effective student learning outcomes (or sometimes learning objectives) (SLOs) for a course articulate the knowledge, skills, or responsibilities that you want your students to have as a result of taking your course. How will students think, act, or feel differently, months or years after your course is over? Course outcomes tend to be broad and enduring, representing the top priorities for learning in your exact course.

  1. Course SLOs describe what students will be able to do, so we can measure the outcomes: Course SLOs are written in terms of what students will be able to do by the end of the course. They generally describe an action rather than a state of mind, because we can best direct our efforts to affect and measure those student behaviors. SLOs often state a goal using an action verb: Instead of “Students will understand X,” which is difficult to measure, we say “Students will be able to define X” or “Students will be able to analyze the causes and effects of Y.”
  2. Course SLOs are clear & understandable to students, as well as instructors: SLOs should be phrased in fairly simple terms so that they are clear to both students and all the faculty or graduate instructors who will teach or support the course. If you are expected to use word-for-word SLOs (from your department or accrediting body) that are written primarily to instructors, consider whether you can translate some of them into language your students will be able to access.
  3. Course SLOs include some outcomes that require high levels of thinking and learning: Good course SLOs include objectives at higher levels of learning (application and integration; see Bloom’s Taxonomy). This does not mean that fundamental knowledge or skills are unimportant. However, course SLOs are more than just a collection of low-level objectives or a list of facts or texts that will be “covered” during the term. Even faculty in introductory courses should expect that students can do more by the end of the course than repeat knowledge exactly as it was presented to them.

1. Tips for Writing Learning Outcomes

  • For course-level SLOs, focus on a small set of outcomes (often no more than 4-7 statements) that identify key knowledge and skills relevant to scholars and professionals in your field (these are different from weekly or unit-level learning objectives)
  • Be as specific as possible: what exact action should students be able to perform?
  • Be sure the outcomes are stated in terms of what the students will be able to do, or knowledge they will be able to demonstrate – this makes measuring them much easier to both understand and assess
  • Work for clarity in language – remember that your audience is your students

2. Example Language for Learning Objectives

By the end of this course,…

  • Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of basic information about ___.
  • Students will be able to define the major ideas of ___ and ___, and be able to identify their interrelationships.
  • Students will be able to analyze information about ___, and make judgments about the validity of that information.
  • Students will be able to describe the approaches and underlying values of ___, and apply those frameworks to new cases.
  • Students will be able to communicate their knowledge about this subject orally and in writing, to a variety of audiences.
  • Students will be able to apply the course information and skills to real world situations.
  • Students will be able to reflect on how they learn ____ and create plans to incorporate that approach into their own work.

* Click here for additional recommendations and language on writing student learning outcomes.

Some material on this page was adapted from <a href=”” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Robert Noyd (2001)</a>.