Assessment How-to

Develop Program Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

1. What are program student learning outcomes?
2. Why develop and publish program student learning outcomes?
3. Characteristics of program student learning outcomes
4. Developing program student learning outcomes
5. Examples of program student learning outcomes
6. Good practices
7. Worksheets/Checklists/Resources

1. What are program student learning outcomes?

Program student learning outcomes (SLOs) are clear, concise statements that describe how students can demonstrate their mastery of program goals (Allen, M., 2008). These statements identify the knowledge, skills, or attitudes that students will be able to demonstrate, represent, or produce upon successful completion of the program.

2. Why develop and publish program student learning outcomes?

Student learning outcomes:
  • Help students learn more effectively
  • Make clear what students should expect from their educational experience
    • Encourage students to be intentional learners who direct and monitor their own learning
  • Help faculty design courses, curriculum, and programs
  • Make graduates’ skills and knowledge clear to employers, accrediting agencies, etc.

Questions that student learning outcomes address include the following:

  • What knowledge, skills, abilities, and values should the ideal student graduating from our program demonstrate?
  • How will they be able to demonstrate these capabilities?
  • How well does our program prepare students for careers, graduate school, professional study, and/or lifelong learning?
  • What evidence can we use to demonstrate growth in students’ knowledge, skills, abilities, and values as they progress through our program?

Characteristics of program student learning outcomes:

  • Describe what students learn, rather than what faculty will do or “cover”
  • Framed in terms of the program and not individual courses
  • Observable or measurable
  • Important
  • Alignment:
    • Program SLOs align with school/college goals and institutional goals
    • Course SLOs align with program SLOs
  • Rely on verbs that specify definite, observable behaviors
  • Focus on the central abilities of the discipline. Incorporate or adapt professional organizations' outcome statements when they exist.
  • Stated such that evidence related to the outcome can be gathered by more than one data-collection method
  • Collaboratively authored and collectively accepted
  • 3-6 outcomes are ideal

Good outcomes use verbs that describe definite, observable actions
Bloom et al.’s taxonomy is a well-known description of levels of educational objectives. It may be useful to consider this taxonomy when defining your outcomes.

Bloom et al.’s Taxonomy

Level

Cognitive Behaviors

1. Knowledge

To know specific facts, terms, concepts, principles, or theories

2. Comprehension

To understand, interpret, compare and contrast, explain

3. Application

To apply knowledge to new situations, to solve problems

4. Analysis

To identify the organizational structure of something; to identify parts, relationships, and organizing principles

5. Synthesis

To create something, to integrate ideas into a solution, to propose an action plan, to formulate a new classification scheme

6. Evaluation

To judge the quality of something based on its adequacy, value, logic, or use

Verb Power
Concrete verbs such as “define,” “identify,” or “create” are more helpful for teaching, learning, and assessment than verbs such as “know,” “understand,” or passive verbs such as “be exposed to.” Using verbs that specify a type of thinking or behavior can help faculty design activities and develop assignments, exams, and projects. In addition, students are clear on what they need to be able to do to demonstrate their learning achievement.

Some examples of verbs frequently used in outcomes are included in the table below.

Knowledge

Comprehension

Application

Analysis

Synthesis

Evaluation

cite
define
describe
identify
indicate
label
list
match
memorize
name
outline
recall
recognize
record
relate
repeat
reproduce
select
state
underline

arrange
classify
convert
describe
defend
diagram
discuss
distinguish
estimate
explain
extend
generalize
give examples
infer
locate
outline
paraphrase
predict
report
restate
review
suggest
summarize
translate

apply
change
compute
construct
demonstrate
discover
dramatize
employ
illustrate
interpret
investigate
manipulate
modify
operate
organize
practice
predict
prepare
produce
schedule
shop
sketch
solve
translate
use

analyze
appraise
break down
calculate
categorize
compare
contrast
criticize
debate
determine
diagram
differentiate
discriminate
distinguish
examine
experiment
identify
illustrate
infer
inspect
inventory
outline
question
relate
select
solve
test

arrange
assemble
categorize
collect
combine
compile
compose
construct
create
design
devise
explain
formulate
generate
manage
modify
organize
perform
plan
prepare
produce
propose
rearrange
reconstruct
relate
reorganize
revise

appraise
assess
choose
compare
conclude
contrast
criticize
decide
discriminate
estimate
evaluate
explain
grade
judge
justify
interpret
measure
rate
relate
revise
score
select
summarize
support
value

[From: Gronlund, N. E. (1991). How to write and use instructional objectives (4th ed.). New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.]

4. Developing program student learning outcomes

Before developing program student learning outcomes, it might be helpful to consider these questions which focus on outcomes in slightly different ways:

  • For each of the stated program goals, what are the specific knowledge, skills, or attitudes that would tell you this goal is being achieved?
  • What would a skeptic need (evidence, behavior, etc.) in order to see that your students are achieving the major goals you have set out for them?
  • In your experience, what evidence tells you when students have met these goals – how do you know when they’re “getting” it?

Learning outcome statements may be broken down into 3 main components:

  1. A verb that identifies the performance to be demonstrated
  2. A learning statement that specifies what learning will be demonstrated in the performance
  3. A broad statement of the criterion or standard for acceptable performance

For example:

Verb
(performance)

Learning Statement
(the learning)

Criterion
(the conditions of the performance demonstration)

produces and debugs

source code of programs

using at least programming languages (e.g., C++, Java).

analyzes

global and environmental factors

in terms of their effects on people

Tips: Effective program outcomes are widely accepted and supported by faculty members. Developing appropriate and useful outcomes is an iterative process; it’s not unusual to revisit and refine outcome statements. In most cases, it is only when you try to develop ways of assessing program outcomes that the need for refining them becomes apparent.

5. Examples of program student learning outcomes

Natural Sciences

  • Students can apply the scientific methodology in a research proposal.
  • Students can evaluate the validity and limitations of theories and scientific claims in experimental results.
  • Students can assess the relevance and application of science in everyday life.

Psychology

  • Graduates can write research papers in APA (American Psychological Association) style.
  • Graduates can analyze experimental results and draw reasonable conclusions from them.
  • Graduates can recognize and articulate the foundational assumptions, central ideas, and dominant criticisms of the psychoanalytic, behaviorist, humanistic, and cognitive approaches to psychology.

History

  • Students can list major events in American history.
  • Students can describe major events and trends in American history.
  • Students can apply their knowledge of American history to examine contemporary American issues.

6. Good practices

  • Publicize program outcomes in the catalog, on web, on syllabi, annual report, brochures, etc.
  • Use program outcomes to guide course and curriculum planning so students experience a cohesive curriculum
  • Use program outcomes to shape assessment efforts and faculty/staff conversations surrounding student learning
  • Collaboratively develop program outcomes; discuss and collectively accept program outcomes

7. Worksheet/Checklist/Resources

Use this worksheet and checklist to record and evaluate your outcomes (Word document).

Workshop Presentation Slides and Handouts (PDFs)

 

Sources consulted:
Allen, M. (2008). Assessment workshop at UH Mānoa on May 13-24, 2008. [Available at the Assessment Office]
How to Write Program Objectives/Outcomes. [PDF] University of Connecticut assessment web site
Program Assessment Handbook: Guidelines for Planning and Implementing Quality Enhancing Efforts of Program and Student Learning Outcomes. [PDF] University of Central Florida. (June 2008 edition).
Program-Based Review and Assessment: Tools and Techniques for Program Improvement. [PDF] Office of Academic Planning and Assessment. University of Massachusetts Amherst. (2001).
Tools & Techniques for Program Improvement: Handbook for Program Review & Assessment of Student Learning. [PDF] Office of Institutional Assessment, Research, and Testing. Western Washington University. (2006).

updated 4/18/2013