Develop Student Learning Outcomes

What is a Student Learning Outcome?

A student learning outcome (SLO) is a brief statement of what a student will know or be able to do by the end of a course of study. 

Why are SLOs important?

SLOs are the critical starting point for assessing student learning at the course, program, or institutional level.   Before we can collect evidence of learning, it is important to know exactly what type of learning we want our students to demonstrate.

Characteristics of Strong SLOs

Strong SLOs are clearly defined, measurable, and address the context or criteria under which students will demonstrate learning.   The following “ABCs” can be used to help you construct strong SLOs:

Actor: The student is almost always the actor at the heart of an outcomes statement.   SLOs are about the actual learning that students demonstrate, not the courses, services, experiences, etc. that a program provides.

Behavior:  What will the student do to demonstrate learning?  Use an action verb in the SLO (see the action verbs in Bloom’s Taxonomy,  next page).

Condition / Criteria:  In what format or context will the student demonstrate the learning?  For instance, will they demonstrate proficiency on a particular assignment or summative project? It is also helpful to consider the desired level or quality of learning in order to usefully gauge student success.

Note: Avoid these words as the sole action verb of your statement: know, learn, understand, appreciate, be aware of, explore, become familiar with, gain insight of, and realize. These words can make SLOs difficult to measure.

See Bloom’s Taxonomy Handout for measurable verbs (PDF).

Examples of clear, measurable SLOs (look for the ABCs!)

Students will be able to collect, analyze, and interpret relevant data to test a hypothesis in a summative laboratory report.

Students will be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out original field research thorough creation of a research portfolio.

Students will be able to use technology to effectively analyze and communicate information.

Students will be able to analyze and interpret texts, with appropriate support and documention, using written or oral arguments.

Choosing a Manageable Number of SLOs

In defining a list of SLOs for your course or program, remember to keep the focus on the intended, essential outcomes.  What are the essential things that students must know and be able to do by the end of your course or academic program?  

Best practices recommends defining four to six outcomes for both courses and programs.  Naturally, faculty hope that their students will learn far more than what can be defined in four to six outcomes, but remember, you are defining a manageable number of essential learning outcomes.

Does Your Curriculum Support the SLOs?

Once your program has defined its SLOs, it is important to make sure that the curriculum supports students’ attainment of them.   In reviewing your curriculum, some questions to consider are the following:

  • Are all SLOs both introduced and reinforced through the curriculum?
  • Do students have sufficient opportunities to attain SLOs through coursework or other opportunities?
  • Can some SLOs be “skipped?”
  • Are SLOs addressed at appropriate times in the curriculum? The curriculum should not expect students to demonstrate high-level SLOs too early or low-level SLOs too late in the program.