Develop Student Learning Outcomes

Student learning outcomes (SLOs) are brief statements of what successful students should know or be able to do by the end of a course of study. Well-formed learning outcomes are written in terms of skills or actions, as that formulation creates measurable and useful SLOs.

Why are SLOs important?

At their best, SLOs provide definition and scope for a course or program. They guide instructors in making instructional and assessment choices, they direct student attention to targeted learning goals while setting clear expectations, and help colleagues understand how courses fit together within a curriculum.

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How to Write Strong SLOs

Watch this short video for a quick (3-minute) primer on writing well-formed SLOs.

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Evaluating your SLOs

Strong SLOs are clearly defined, measurable, and address the context or criteria under which students will demonstrate learning. Use this checklist to identify ways in which your SLOs for a course or program might need revision:

  • Number: There are 3-5 SLOs defined for the application (without using excessive conjunctions!).
  • Action-Oriented: Each SLO is action oriented – most likely through use of an action verb at the beginning of each SLO.
  • Measurable: Each SLO is directly measurable/assessable and avoids use of less measurable terms like "understand", "know" and "gain an appreciation for".
  • Time Bound: SLOs are articulated within a time-bound context (e.g., "By the end of this course…", "Upon successful completion of this degree…").
  • Learner-Centered: SLOs focus on what students will know or be able to do by the end of the lesson/course/degree.
  • Jargon-Free: SLOs are free of discipline-specific terms and abbreviations that students in the course or major are not likely to understand (or those terms are provided with further explanation or definition).
  • Provides Scope: Each SLO is articulated in a way that specifies the limits (or "scope") of expected application of the skill.
  • Alignment with Level: Verbs used in SLOs trend toward lower-level cognitive skills (e.g., remember and understand categories of Bloom's taxonomy) for courses that are introductory in nature, and trend toward higher-level cognitive skills for more advanced courses.

Thinking Programmatically

If you are developing SLOs for a larger curriculum or program, it is important to also consider the ways in which the courses embedded in this curriculum or program serve to support the bigger-picture SLOs. In reviewing your curriculum, consider the following questions:

  • 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.

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