What are Student Learning Outcomes?
Effective Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) are descriptive (describe what a student will be able to do), are measureable, and are plainly stated (i.e. understandable to faculty and students alike). They should focus on the product or performance rather than the process.(Adapted from Guidelines for Well-written Student Learning Outcomes)
Why are SLOs essential?
SLOs define the measurable expectations of learning in a course, program, or curriculum. SLOs, therefore, serve as the basis for all assessment of student learning that is a result of an educational experience. Assessment of student learning provides information that allows us to improve teaching and learning in the classroom, as well as academic programs across our campus.
Student learning outcomes benefit students by strengthening academic programs and enabling students to articulate and demonstrate what they know, understand and can do. "Students perform better when they know exactly what is expected of them, including what they will be required to do and how it will be evaluated." (Taken from Writing Learning Outcomes)
Finally, SLO assessment and the subsequent improvements made to programs are a requirement of ongoing institutional and programmatic accreditation. Institutional accreditation is essential to the College as it ensures our students have access to federal financial aid. Information about the College’s current accreditation status and processes can be found here.
What does a well-written SLO include?
SLOs must include the following things:
- Condition – The specific context under which the behavior is to be demonstrated.
- Behavior – What the student will do. Be sure to use an action verb of the appropriate learning level (see Bloom’s Taxonomy below).
- Criteria – A definition of the minimum acceptable level of performance
What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?
“Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchical design of ways of thinking (action or performance verbs) that classifies learning or cognition into six levels; categorized from less to more complex." (Taken from Guidelines for Well-written Student Learning Outcomes)
Level 1 – Remember
Level 2 – Understand
Level 3 – Apply
Level 4 – Analyze
Level 5 – Evaluate
Level 6 – Create
Because of the hierarchical structure, it is logical that upper division and graduate level courses would require higher levels of learning, while lower division courses will expect lower levels in the taxonomy. Similarly, one can infer that if a student can apply knowledge (Level 3), they have understood (Level 2) the knowledge they acquired (Level 1). Therefore, each SLO should include a single action verb.
“Consider the following SLO: Clearly comprehend and apply early childhood theories. The action verb ‘comprehend’ denotes to understand (Bloom’s Level 2), while ‘apply’ is a Level 3 action verb. Therefore, it is inferred that if one can ‘apply’ the theories that one ‘comprehends’ them. In this example, the SLO could be restated as follows: Clearly apply early childhood theories.” (Taken from Guidelines for Well-written Student Learning Outcomes)
Please see Bloom’s Verbs and Matching Assessment Types for examples of action verbs for each level of learning.
What if I want to learn more?
Below are some resources on writing effective SLOs at the course level.
- Office of Institutional Effectiveness PowerPoint on Assessment and writing Student Learning Outcomes
- National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment – resources for writing SLOs
- Writing SLOs for Course Syllabi from the University of West Florida Assessment web page
- Tulane University page on SLOs
- Bloom’s Taxonomy Resources