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Developing Program SLOs

What is a Program?

Programs include those pathways in the college that lead to majors and certificates.  Title 5 defines a program as “an organized sequence of courses leading to a defined objective, a degree, a certificate, a diploma, a license, or transfer to another institution of higher education.”

Programs have their own learning outcomes associated with successful student completion of all of the coursework needed to complete a program.

Each certificate or major in a department constitutes a single program.  Program Student Learning Outcomes (PSLOs) for majors and certificates  are listed in the course catalog if they are instructional programs. For service programs, they are listed on department assessment pages. Note: departments can also choose to create disciplines, which is like a department mission statement and a list of department SLOs associated with all offerings. Typically disciplines are used for departments that have no certificates or majors and want to map their courses to ILOs.

Writing Program SLOs

When trying to write a program SLO, it is often helpful to create a mission statement for the program.  Program mission statements may or may not be different from the mission statement for your department. A department with a single program may have the same mission statement for department and program, while a department with multiple programs will likely have a broader department mission statement and more specific program mission statements. A mission statement will often begin with the program in question, then make a statement about what that program does or provides, and to whom or for whom it is provided. For example:

  • What will a student who completes this program be able to do?
  • What concepts or skills run throughout all (or many) of the program’s courses?
  • What skills or knowledge will students who complete the program have?
  • What will students gain from completing this program?

How many SLOs does your program need?

Some programs may only need one or two PSLOs.  

  • Some programs consist of courses that all develop a single skill through various topics (for example, literary analysis is a single skill developed through practice with multiple literary traditions and genres)
  • Some programs have a capstone course that ties together elements from all of the other courses; in this case, the capstone course SLOs can also be the program SLOs.   For example, a paralegal studies capstone course that integrates concepts from previous courses and provides students the opportunity to practice them in a workplace setting would fulfill the PSLO requirement.

Other programs may need several PSLOs.

  • Some programs’ courses may develop two or more “strands” of knowledge or skills within the program (for example, a psychology program may include courses that fall into biological and social psychology or a modern language program may have goals in both linguistic and cultural competence)
  • Some programs may have a split focus between content knowledge or theory and the application of that knowledge (for example, a science program that has lecture and lab components or a CTE program that focuses on both content area and workplace (or “soft”) skills)
  • Some programs have external standards that course and program SLOs must align to, and it is these external standards that determine the number of learning outcomes  (i.e. Culinary Arts is accredited by the American Culinary Federation).

Drafting your PSLOs

Writing program SLOs is very similar to writing course-level SLOs.  Ensure that the PSLOs are focused on the students (what will the student be able to do?) as opposed to the teacher (what will be taught?)

  • Use critical thinking verbs appropriate to the level of the program (Bloom’s Taxonomy)

  • Make sure that the program SLO is something that is readily observable and assessable – in other words, build in assessment from the beginning. Don’t create a program SLO that you can’t envision observing or evaluating or one that requires data that you won’t be able to access.

For more information on drafting learning outcomes, be sure to read the previous chapter in this manual:  Developing Course SLOs

Mapping Course SLOs to PSLOs 

Curriculum mapping is a tool used to create awareness and facilitate improvements in curriculum design. A curriculum map ensures that course outcomes are covered across the program and that gaps in instruction do not exist.  For more information on mapping course SLOs to PSLOs, please review the Mapping Guidelines.