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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 assessment program. Spending time on this step makes the latter steps easier and ensures that the assessment process is valuable for students and faculty.

What are Learning Outcomes?

Successful assessment begins with a clear sense of what you want your students to “look like” when they graduate. Learning outcomes are the roadmap for you and your students. What is a learning outcome?

Learning Outcome: 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.

Characteristics of well-written outcomes include:

A Strong Learning Outcome...

  • Is observable, demonstrable (via behavior or product)
  • Is measurable (consistently by different raters)
  • Is generally focused on a single act rather than multiple acts
  • Employs action words (avoids “squish” words)
  • Uses words that are specific and not open to wide range of interpretation
  • Is attainable and ambitious/challenging
  • Suggests or implies some form of assessment (e.g.,...is measured by ________)
  • Links explicitly to an element in the College’s Conceptual Framework
  • Informs program improvement

Learning Outcome Examples

Weak Learning Outcomes

Strong Learning Outcomes

Candidates will understand how to work with families of students.

Candidates will design and implement 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.
last updated — Aug 16, 2010