What is a Student Learning Outcome?

A student learning outcome is:

Student learning outcomes are statements that specify what students will know, be able to do, or value when they complete a program. Each student learning outcome is directly drawn from the programs learning goals.

A student learning outcome consists of three elements:

  • An opening phrase to indicate who will demonstrate the learning.
    • Typical opening phrases include “students will” or “graduates of the program will.” These phrases can also be customized to your program, e.g., “Chemistry majors will” or “Graduates of the Management Program will.”
  • An action word that clearly describes the behavior to be observed.
    • The action word indicates whether the student is expected to know, do, or value something. For example, “list” or “recite” are action words that indicate knowledge.
  • learning statement that specifies the learning that will be demonstrated.
    • This statement indicates what the student should know, be able to do, or value. For example, knowledge of specific facts or valuing of diverse perspectives.

A well-written student learning outcome should:

  • Be jargon-free and use clear language. Your outcomes will be read by a number of audiences, including current students, incoming students, prospective students, parents, and potential employers of your graduates. Write your outcomes in language that will allow your audience to understand what students in your program learn.
  • Contain only one learning statement. Assessment will be more effective and manageable if each student learning outcome focuses on one element of learning.
  • Be appropriate, realistic, and attainable. Students should realistically be able to achieve the learning outcome by completing your program. In addition, the type of learning expressed in the outcome should be appropriate to the student’s level (i.e., undergraduate major, undergraduate minor, graduate student).

A student learning outcome is NOT:

Just as it is important to understand what a student learning outcome consists of, it is also important to be able to recognize the elements that should not be included in a learning outcome. Each of the items listed below are important considerations in designing a program and planning your pedagogy, but they are not learning outcomes because they do not specify what the student will know, be able to do, or value by the time they complete the program.

A student learning outcome does NOT include:

  • What you will offer the student
  • The process a student will go through to learn
  • Student satisfaction with the program

Examples of statements that are NOT student learning outcomes:

  • Students will be given the opportunity to work as a team.
  • The program prepares students for graduate study.
  • Students will participate in an internship.
  • Graduates will be satisfied with their coursework.

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