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Student Learning Outcomes

Student learning outcomes – sometimes referred to as learning goals or objectives – exist to identify what students will know, think, or be able to do as a result of a learning experience. At the program level, the SLOs identify the knowledge and skills of graduates of the major. The development or revisions of SLOs is step 1 in the assessment cycle: Define student learning outcomes. 

Learning outcomes can exist for programs and experiences both in and out of the classroom. Huba and Freed (2000) state that effective outcomes:

  • Are student-focused
  • Focus on what is learned rather than how it is learned
  • Reflect the institution’s mission and the values it represents
  • Align at the course/program, department, divisional, and institutional levels

Generally speaking, learning outcome statements should include the following:

  • Identification of who is doing the learning
  • The knowledge or skill that will be learned
  • The experience in which the learning will occur

Of particular importance is the specificity of the knowledge or skill expected to be achieved. Programs or departments may choose to write broad learning goals, but more specific outcomes that break down the goal into measurable components would also be necessary in order to allow for assessment. For example, a broad, program-level learning outcome stating that "Graduates of this program will be able to communicate effectively" is too broad to be assessed. However, more specific learning outcomes could be developed under the goal, identifying various aspects of effective communication.

One way to ensure that learning outcomes are specific is to make sure that they answer the question "What does that look like?" or "How is that defined?" when stating the knowledge or skill. Using the example above, the question would be "What does effective communication look like?" From there a breakdown of the concept of "communication" can lead to outcomes pertaining to each of the various aspects of communication (e.g., written, oral, and listening skills).

The domains of Bloom's taxonomy, particularly the cognitive domain, are a good resource for specifying the intended behavior in a learning outcome. Because each level builds on the preceding level, it is important to give students adequate opportunity to reach the more complex levels of learning. For example, in foundational coursework the primary outcomes may focus on acquiring knowledge in a field, while outcomes in advanced courses may focus on evaluation or creation of knowledge.

The number of student learning outcomes may vary across programs, but generally speaking, 4-6 SLOs for a degree and 2-3 SLOs for a certificate is a reasonable guideline. Additionally, it is recommended that program faculty identify a schedule or cycle of assessment of the program's learning outcomes as opposed to assessing every outcome every year.

Student achievement of the learning outcomes can be evidenced directly or indirectly; see the Assessment Methods page for more information.

Please contact Marissa Cope, Assessment Director, at with questions or for support with writing or editing your program-level student learning outcomes.