Santa Clara University


Articulate Student Learning Outcomes

Definition of Student Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are statements that specify what students will know or be able to do as a result of earning their degrees. Effective outcomes are usually expressed as knowledge, skills, or abilities that students will possess upon successful completion of a program. Like program goals, SLOs are often informed by a professional organization's outcomes statements and the institution's mission and goals. SLOs provide guidance for faculty regarding content, instruction, and evaluation, and serve as the basis for ensuring program effectiveness.

Characteristics of Effective SLOs

SLOs should be clear, concise statements that describe how students can demonstrate their mastery of program learning goals. Each student learning outcome statement must be measurable. Measures applied to student work and may include: student assignments, work samples or tests, measuring student ability/skill, knowledge, or attitude/value.

Bloom's taxonomy is a useful tool in more precisely characterizing the type and level of learning outcome the program wishes to foster. It helps programs avoid vague outcomes, such as "understand" or "appreciate," which are difficult to measure and instead focuses attention on more concrete outcomes such as "define," "argue," "analyze,""apply," "integrate," etc. Learning outcomes consist of a subject (stated or implied: Graduates will….), a verb, and a demonstrated learning outcome.

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


From Clemson University Assessment Webiste

Sample Program Learning Outcomes

Example One:

  1. English - Present original interpretations of literary works in the context of existing research on these works
  2. Environmental Science - Critically evaluate the effectiveness of agencies, organizations, and programs addressing environmental problems 
  3. Theater - Use voice, movement, and understanding of dramatic character and situation to affect and audience 
  4. Women's Studies - Use gender as an analytical category to critique cultural and social institutions

From: Linda Suskie, Assessing Student Learning:  A Common Sense Guide, Second Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009, page 132.

Well-written learning outcomes help guide the choice of assessment methods. Course papers could provide the assessment materials for the learning outcomes in English, Environmental Sciences or Women's Studies. A theater student could demonstrate the skills embedded in the theater learning outcome in a performance.

Example Two:
Program Goals and Learning Objectives/Outcomes of Environmental Studies and Sciences Department at SCU  

Additional Considerations about SLO's

  1. Outcomes should have active verbs—how students can demonstrate their learning. Avoid words and phrases like understand, know, demonstrate understanding of, and demonstrate knowledge of.
  2. Outcomes can be stated in simple language; the details are in the rubrics.
  3. Outcomes should be real, not aspirational. Faculty systematically teach and grade students on their achievement of real learning outcomes.
  4. Outcomes should be consistent with the program's mission.
  5. Be careful with compound outcomes. If parts require different lines of evidence, they should be separate outcomes, e.g., Students can write and speak effectively is two outcomes, not one. If the outcome has many verbs, maybe some are redundant or less important, e.g., Students can analyze, break apart, describe, summarize, criticize, and separate the components of a piece of literature.
  6. Don't confuse outcomes with learning processes, e.g., Complete a thesis is not an outcome.
  7. Sometimes an "or" helps you draft an outcome for programs with optional tracks, e.g., Students can analyze works of art or they can create works of art.
  8. Focus on high-priority learning. What are the most important things that students should be able to do after completing your program? What outcomes are faculty passionate about teaching their students?
  9. Consider including basic skills that your program develops, such as written and oral communication, critical thinking, collaboration, leadership, information competence, quantitative reasoning, and the use of technology. If you are a WASC Senior campus, remember the five core competencies: writing, speaking, critical thinking, information literacy, and quantitative reasoning.
  10. Consider "attitudinal" outcomes, such as those related to civic engagement, diversity, professionalism, and respect for civility in interpersonal communication. Sometimes can explain the importance of is a good way to state and assess such outcomes.
  11. If you offer programs at multiple levels (e.g., AA, BA, Master's, Doctorate), specify PLOs that distinguish among the levels

*Material adapted from Cal Poly, The New School, Linda Suskie, Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, and Mary Allen, handout at WASC Leadership Academy.

Additional resources on writing SLOs:


Printer-friendly format