Writing Student Learning Outcomes for Course Syllabi

Describe the knowledge, skills, and abilities students can expect to attain in your course by writing concrete Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)


Each course syllabus should include student learning outcomes (SLOs) that describe the knowledge, skills, and abilities students can expect to attain during your course. Course SLOs should be related to the program SLOs described in the program’s Academic Learning Compact or Academic Learning Plan.

This page provides guidelines for writing student learning outcomes and describes the relation between course SLOs and program SLOs. The page includes links to other resources to help faculty learn more about writing student learning outcomes and describe how their course fits into the overall design of a program of study for an undergraduate or a graduate degree.

Guidelines for elements that should be included in every UWF syllabus can be found on the Syllabus Construction web page:  Guidelines for Syllabus Construction

What are Student Learning Outcomes?

Student learning outcomes (SLOs) are statements that describe what students will be able to know, do, or value as a result of their educational experience. SLOs should be written in language that clearly implies a measureable behavior or quality of student work.

Write student learning outcomes so that students and individuals who do not share your disciplinary expertise will understand the knowledge, skills, abilities, and values they can expect to attain in your course. Describe the SLO in language that a non-specialist will understand.

Bloom’s taxonomy provides a useful framework for identifying and describing the development of student learning from the acquisition of foundation knowledge and skills through the characteristics of expert knowledge. The CUTLA web page on Assessment of Student Learning provide an overview of Bloom’s taxonomy and links to additional useful resources.

Link to Assessment of Student Learning: Introduction to Bloom's Taxonomy page

What is the Difference between a Program Student Learning Outcome and a Course Student Learning Outcome?

Program Student Learning Outcomes are overarching learning outcomes that describe learning obtained across multiple courses in the curriculum. Program student learning outcomes are broad descriptions of what students will be able to know, what they will be able to do, or how they will think about the discipline or approach problem solving after they finish your program. Although these outcomes are broad and general, they must still be written in language that clearly implies a measurable behavior or quality of work.

Course Student Learning Outcomes are more specific learning outcomes that identify learning in an individual course. Course SLOs describe what students should be able to know, think, or do when they finish the course. Course SLOs will be more detailed and specific than program SLOs because they describe the unique skills and knowledge associated with a specific course. However, they should be general enough to provide flexibility and accommodate variation in specific content as the field evolves over time. For example, a course SLO might state that students will be able to describe contemporary models and theories within a specialty area. Omission of the specific models and theories to be described allows an instructor to add newly-emerging theories and models without rewriting the SLOs for the course.

Course student learning outcomes should be clearly related to course topics, assignments, exams, and other graded work.

How can I be Sure that my Student Learning Outcomes are Measurable?

When writing student learning outcomes, a list of action words for Bloom’s taxonomy (available on the CUTLA web site at the link below) can assist you in thinking of measurable behaviors that correspond to the learning goals you want to describe.

Action Words from Blooms Taxonomy

Editing an SLO to clearly describe a measurable outcome

The following examples describe an SLO that is not measurable as written, an explanation for why the SLO is not considered measurable, and a suggested edit that improves the SLO.

Original SLO:
Explore in depth the literature on an aspect of teaching strategies.
 
Evaluation of language used in this SLO:
Exploration is not a measurable activity but the quality of the product of exploration would be measurable with a suitable rubric.
 
Improved SLO:
Write a paper based on an in-depth exploration of the literature on an aspect of teaching strategies.

Additional information about how to write SLOs to create clear and measurable descriptions of student learning can be found in the presentation slides for CCR Workshops. A link to the most recent workshop is provided below. Additional information is provided on the Assessment Resources page.

CCR Submission Workshop: Preparing and Reviewing CCRs (CUTLA Workshop May 16, 2012) 
Current CCR Workshop Handout  (PDF)
Current CCR Workshop Slides  (PDF)

Assessment Resources (CUTLA)

What is the Relation between Course Student Learning Outcomes and Program Student Learning Outcomes?

Course student learning outcomes contribute to the attainment of program student learning outcomes. If a program SLO describes the ability of students to describe and explain contemporary models and theories in a discipline (e.g., psychology), a course SLO might describe the ability of students to describe models and theories within a specific component of the discipline (e.g., cognition, development, personality, social psychology, etc.). Each required course in a well-designed and well-aligned curriculum should contribute toward one or more of the program SLOs. Courses may have additional learning outcomes that might not be articulated as specific program SLOs.

Departments can describe the relation between course and program SLOs in a curriculum map.

What is a Curriculum Map?

A curriculum map is a graphic that shows how courses in the curriculum for a degree program contribute to the overall goals of the program. An example of a Level of Skill Sample Curriculum Map (or curriculum audit) is provided below.

Sample Curriculum Map Picture

Guidelines for Curriculum Maps

Examination of a curriculum map (or curriculum audit) can provide the following information:  

• Identify courses where specific program SLOs are likely to be achieved.
• Identify courses that include an assignment or activity that might be used as an embedded assessment for a program-level SLO.
• Identify courses in which the course learning outcomes are not related to any program learning outcomes.
• Identify gaps in the curriculum. An example of a gap would be the identification of a program SLO that does not appear to be addressed as well as might be desired (e.g., a program might identify writing as an SLO but only one or two courses include SLOs related to quality of writing and none of these do more than introduce writing skill).
• Suggest questions about the need for sequencing courses within the curriculum or modifying existing sequences of courses.

The curriculum map depicted on this page might raise the following questions about this program’s curriculum:

• Would a more explicit sequencing of courses improve student learning? Some required courses introduce students to skills related to a program-level SLO whereas other courses provide reinforcement and practice. Would students benefit by taking the reinforcement courses only after completing the courses in which the skill is introduced? Should advising practices be modified to encourage students to take courses that introduce skills before they enroll in more advanced courses?
• Would it be beneficial to include additional opportunities for practice for some SLOs in other courses (e.g., SLOs related to Critical Thinking, Communication, Integrity/Values, and Project Management)?
• Are students having difficulty managing their capstone course project? Might these difficulties be related to the lack of opportunity to acquire or practice project management skills before they enroll in the capstone course?

Curriculum maps can be used to create a global description of a variety of characteristics of a curriculum. A curriculum map might describe the level of development of student skills on program SLOs (introduced, reinforced, mastered, or assessed). Alternatively, a curriculum map might describe the degree of alignment between the SLOs described for each course and the program SLOs:

• Level 0 – no relationship between course SLOs and a particular program SLO.
• Level 1 – indirect relationship between course SLOs and a particular program SLO. In this case, the course includes some elements that contribute to the achievement of this program SLO, but this learning outcome is not a major focus for the course.
• Level 2 – direct relationship between course SLOs and a particular program SLO. Several course SLOs support the achievement of this SLO but the integration of relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for mastery of the program SLO does not occur in this course.
• Level 3 – a direct relationship exists between the course SLO and a particular program SLO, including at least one course SLO that entails an integration of the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for mastery of the program SLO.

This application of curriculum maps is described by Kelley et al. (2008). Kelley, K. A., McAuley, J. W., Wallace, L, J., & Frank, S. G. (2008). Curricular Mapping: Process and Product, American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 72 (5), Article 100, pp. 1-7.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa hosts an excellent resource page on Assessment How-To: Curriculum Mapping/Curriculum Matrix (U. of Hawaii at Manoa) for curriculum development and assessment.

What is an Academic Learning Compact?

An Academic Learning Compact (ALC) is a document that identifies program-level student learning outcomes for a UWF undergraduate degree program.

The components of an Academic Learning Compact include:

•the mission statement for the department
•program-level student learning outcomes associated with each of the following domains:

Content: Discipline knowledge and skills
Communication
Critical Thinking
Integrity/Values
Project Management

•summary of the assessment plan for the program
•a list of employment prospects for graduates of the program
•the URL address for the web site of the program or major

Academic Learning Compacts are posted on the CUTLA web site. Each department provides a link from the program page on its web site to its ALC document(s) on the CUTLA web site:

Academic Learning Compacts Web Page

Information for the creation and modification of Academic Learning Compacts is provided in the Academic Learning Compacts Policies and Procedures.

Academic Learning Compact Policies and Procedures (pdf)

What is an Academic Learning Plan?

An Academic Learning Plan (ALP) is a document that identifies program-level student learning outcomes for a UWF degree program.

Like an Academic Learning Compact, each Academic Learning Plan includes:

•the mission statement for the department
•program-level student learning outcomes associated with each of the following domains:

Content: Discipline knowledge and skills
Communication
Critical Thinking
Integrity/Values
Project Management

•summary of the assessment plan for the program
•a list of employment prospects for graduates of the program
•the URL address for the web site of the program or major

Academic Learning Plans are posted on the CUTLA web site. Each department provides a link from the program page on its web site to its ALP document(s) on the CUTLA web site:

Academic Learning Plans Web Page

Information for the creation and modification of Academic Learning Compacts is provided in the Academic Learning Compacts Policies and Procedures.

Academic Learning Plans Policies & Procedures

How are Student Learning Outcomes Related to Assessment Plans in a Department?

The following PowerPoint presentation provides an overview of student learning outcomes and curriculum maps in the context of the larger picture of assessment of student learning for continuous program improvement.

All Chairs Workshop on the Assessment of Student Learning
November 16, 2007 [PowerPoint Presentation]


The Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment offers workshops and other departmental consultation on the creation and use of curriculum maps for undergraduate and graduate programs. Contact CUTLA (850-473-7435) to schedule a consultation.


Updated: 07/08/14  tjf

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