Student Learning Outcomes

Meaningful assessment requires well-defined student learning outcomes (SLOs). The SLOs are the key skills, knowledge, habits, or attitudes toward which the curriculum is focused. Outcomes are measurable descriptions of the intended results of student learning [Karel, 2008].

For example, in geology, a key student learning outcome at the course- and program-level is for students to be able to correctly identify rocks and minerals. To do so, they will need to learn Mohs hardness scale, the textural aspects of igneous rocks, how to use a dichotomous key, that blackish-green and greenish-black are completely different colors, and much else. 

When defining outcomes, it is important to:

  • Identify what learning is the most important, often bringing together several parts of the curriculum.
  • State the expectations of student performance, what level of expertise or mastery the students are expected to achieve at the end of the course or program.
  • Describe what the student can do, allowing measurement of demonstrable activity.
  • Focus on lasting results, that will remain relevant long after the course is completed and the student has graduated.

 Examples of Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will be able to solve differential equations.
  • Students will be able to describe the functions and operations of the three branches of government.
  • Students will be able to relate laboratory findings to common disease processes.
  • Students will be able to interpret shop drawings and weld symbols applicable to the process of fabricating the designed assembly.

 Broadly speaking, student learning outcomes fall into several categories [Suskie, 2018, p. 45]:

  • Knowledge of facts and concepts
  • Cognitive skills
  • Performance skills
  • Attitudes and values, the principles that help guide our lives
  • Habits of mind, the personality traits that define our character

While some of these are challenging to instill and assess, they collectively define what it means to be an educated person.

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment: Transparency Framework


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