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Writing a Student Learning Outcome

The first step in developing an assessment plan is craft program student learning outcomes (SLOs). Well-developed learning outcomes are the foundation of a practical, sustainable, faculty-owned assessment system. Spending time on this step makes the latter steps easier and ensures the assessment process is valuable for students and faculty.

What are Learning Outcomes?

A learning outcome describes what you want your students to “look like” when they graduate. Learning outcomes are a roadmap for you and your students. What is a learning outcome?

A learning outcome is a specific statement that defines, in behavioral terms, what a student should know, think, or be able to do upon completing a course of study or a set of activities.

Well-written outcomes are:

  • reflective of the broad outcomes desired by program faculty.
  • targeted at the right level of performance for the developmental level of the students.
  • observable, demonstrable (via behavior or product).
  • measurable (consistently by different raters).
  • generally focused on a single act rather than multiple acts.
  • direct, using action words (avoids “squish” words like know or understand).
  • attainable and ambitious/challenging.
  • linked explicitly to an element in the College’s Conceptual Framework.
  • useful for program improvement.

There are many useful resources for identifying the desired level and language in your outcomes. However, Bloom’s Taxonomy (PDF) is commonly used and the document included in the preceding link provides action words for the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains.

Learning Outcome Examples

Weak Learning Outcomes Strong Learning Outcomes
Candidates will understand how to work with families of students. Candidates will design a plan for outreach to families of their students.
Candidates will know how to assess student learning. Candidates will assess student learning after delivery of a unit of instruction.

Why Have Learning Outcomes?

Huba and Freed (2000) have identified three main benefits to well-defined goals and outcomes:

  • Goals and outcomes are the foundation for assessing student learning at all levels of the institution.
  • Faculty and staff can use clear learning outcomes to guide all instruction and programs.
  • Students can refer to learning outcomes to understand what is important to learn.

Once you have reached consensus on your program learning outcomes, it is time to develop a curriculum map.