Program Learning Outcomes

Developing Program Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Table of Contents

  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


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.

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2. Why develop and publish program student learning outcomes?Target image with darts

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?

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3. Characteristics of program student learning outcomes

Student learning outcomes (SLOs):

  • Describe what students will learn, rather than what faculty will do or “cover.”
  • Are framed in terms of the program and not individual courses.
  • Are observable or measurable.
  • Identify skills & knowledge that are important in students' disciplines, careers, and lives.
  • Are aligned:
  • 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.
  • Are stated such that evidence related to the outcome can be gathered by more than one data-collection method.
  • Are collaboratively authored and collectively accepted by faculty members in the program.
  • Are small in number (three to five is ideal).

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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 conditions for the performance.

For example:

Verb

(performance)

Learning Statement

(the learning)

Criterion

(conditions of the performance demonstration)

produces and debugs source code of programs using at least two programming languages (e.g., C++, Java)
analyzes global and environmental factors in terms of their effects on people

Apples with tape measure

Tip: Effective program outcomes are those that 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.

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5. Examples of program student learning outcomes

Poor: Students should know the historically important systems of psychology.

This is poor because it says neither what systems nor what information about each system students should know. Are they supposed to know everything about them or just names? Should students be able to recognize the names, recite the central ideas, or criticize the assumptions?

Better: Students should know the psychoanalytic, gestalt, behaviorist, humanistic, and cognitive approaches to psychology.

This is better because it says what theories students should “know” about each theory, or how deeply they should understand whatever it is they should understand.

Best: Students should be able to recognize and articulate the foundational assumptions, central ideas, and dominant criticisms of the psychoanalytic, gestalt, behaviorist, humanistic, and cognitive approaches to psychology.

This is the clearest and most specific statement of the three examples. It clarifies how one is to demonstrate that they “know.” It provides even beginning students an understandable and very specific target to aim for. It provides faculty with a reasonable standard against which they can compare actual student performance.

Other examples:

Natural Sciences

  • Students can apply scientific methodology in a research proposal.
  • Students can evaluate the validity and limitations of theories and scientific claims in experimental results.
  • Students can evaluate 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.

(Adapted from the Assessment pages of the University of Hawaii, Manoa)

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Sources consulted:


Allen, M. (2008). Assessment workshop at UH Mānoa on May 13-24, 2008. [Available at the UH Mānoa 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).

Techniques for Program Improvement: Handbook for Program Review Assessment of Student Learning. [PDF] Office of Institutional Assessment, Research, and Testing, Western Washington University. (2006).


Image of Question MarkIf you have any questions about assessment of student learning, please contact the OIA Assessment Team