College of Arts & Sciences

Defining Effective Student Learning Outcomes for Your Course

Course Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) should provide students with clearly stated guidance on what they are expected to learn and be able to do by the end of the course. Developing effective SLOs will provide a concrete structure for the elements of your course, and help you reflect on your teaching.

Learning Outcomes Change the Focus of Education

Traditionally, courses have been approached from the perspective of the instructor. Instructors created a syllabus and lesson plans to help them "deliver" or "cover" the content in a structured way. Course objectives were something that the instructor expected herself to meet ("Provide an overview…," "Demonstrate methods of…,'" "Familiarize students with…"). This approach is valuable to the instructor in preparing for the course and managing work for the semester. These instructor-centered course objectives give students a notion of what "the instructor will cover," but they provide little insight into what the students will be expected to know and be able to do.

Student Learning Outcomes let students know exactly what they will have to demonstrate by the end of the course. SLOs also help the instructor be more student-focused in their expectations of what students can accomplish, in creating learning activities to help them accomplish those items, and in creating assessments that give them an opportunity to demonstrate what they've learned.

Course-level Student Learning Outcomes are Effective When…

  1. They are aligned to the program-level student learning outcomes. Each course is part of an overall program curriculum, and therefore helps to develop one or more of the program outcomes (this includes courses in a basic studies program). A course SLO may be exactly the same as one of the program SLOs. More often, a course SLO represents a SUB-OUTCOME, a specific concept or skill that develops understanding of the program SLO. Providing and discussing course SLOs helps students understand how the course fits into the whole picture.
  2. They are focused on the essential understandings or essential questions of the discipline. According to Wiggins and McTighe (1998), material worth understanding should be "enduring, [and] at the heart of the discipline" (p. 23).
  3. They are assessable. SLOs should use descriptive, action words that can be observed and measured by the instructor. See one of the following Bloom's Taxonomy Verb Lists.
    Bloom's Verb List 1 Links new language to original language.
    Bloom's Verb List 2 A Model of Learning Objectives
    Bloom's Verb List 2 Also includes words to avoid.
    Bloom's Verb List 3 Also illustrates the roles of the instructor and student and potential products..
  4. They are limited to a few. Course-level SLOs should signal the main purposes of the class and be limited enough so that they all can be assessed.
Types and Examples of Student Learning Outcomes

SLOs fall into three types: Knowledge, Skills and Abilities, and Values and Attitudes.


In all disciplines, there are certain facts, concepts, principles and theories that students are expected to know. The following are examples of Knowledge Outcomes for various disciplines and courses.

"By the end of the course, students are expected to…"

Anthropology - North American Indians

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the major issues facing Native Americans in North America.

Geology - Environmental Geology

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between man and his geologic environment.
  • Be able to describe the properties of rocks and surficial deposits.

Music - Music Theory

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the physics of sound, time classification, and notation.

Philosophy and Religion - Introduction to Religion

  • Describe and compare key world religions in terms of scriptures, doctrines, rituals and other practices.

Psychology - Cognitive Psychology

  • Explain the various theories of human cognition.


Courses may also be part of the curriculum in order to develop cognitive, social and/or aesthetic skills and abilities. The following are examples of Skills and Abilities Outcomes for various disciplines and courses.

"By the end of the course, students are expected to…"

Anthropology - Field Methods in Archaeology

  • Demonstrate the ability to use the archaeological methods of excavation, sampling, and preservation.

Creative Writing - Creative Nonfiction

  • Write creative nonfiction
  • Critique and relate to their own work the work of relevant professional authors.

History - The Practice of History

  • Demonstrate an awareness of interpretive differences.

Mathematics and Statistics - College Algebra

  • Solve linear equations and inequalities in one or two variables.
  • Apply algebra to real-world problems that can be represented in one and two variables.

Psychology - Psychological Research Methods (Graduate)

  • Critically evaluate published research and give possible alternative interpretations of research outcomes.

Studio Art - Two-Dimensional Design

  • Use the principles of two-dimensional design to create artwork.


Course may also attempt to foster values and attitudes (habits of mind) such as open-mindedness, diligence, integrity, and social responsibility. The following are examples of Values and Attitudes Outcomes for various disciplines and courses.

"By the end of the course, students are expected to…"

Social Work - Issues in Social Justice

  • Demonstrate a commitment to nondiscriminatory and respectful professional practice in a diverse society.

Sociology - Practicum in Public Sociology

  • Demonstrate the ability to apply concepts learned in classroom instruction to the local community and understand the importance of such civic engagement. [The first part of this SLO relates to skills and abilities. The second part reflects values and attitudes.]

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design. Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Aligning Outcomes and Assessment

Back to Course-level Assessment