Developing Outcomes

Student Learning Outcome Defined

SLOs are the measurable skills or accomplishments, which embody the overarching goals of a course. They represent the most important learning that takes place in a course. It may be helpful to think of them this way: when your students leave your course at the end of the semester, you want them to be in firm possession of certain abilities or knowledge, and you want them to retain those abilities or that knowledge. Those are the student learning outcomes.

While many courses in the past have had upwards of 15 or more learning objectives (some science courses have over a hundred), student learning outcomes organize these skills into broader outcomes.

Because student learning outcomes need to be assessed in a more organized, concrete way than the old learning objectives, and because student learning outcomes are broader than learning objectives, it makes sense for a course to have a limited number of student learning outcomes. Ideally, each most courses should have between five and seven SLOs. Currently, the number of SLOs listed on the majority of course outlines is much greater. Through continued assessment, faculty will begin to identify which SLOs are actually learning objectives and  can be combined with others to create broader overarching SLOs for the course.

The Difference Between Outcomes and Objectives

“Student learning outcomes” do not represent a completely new direction in teaching and learning but rather a continuation of a trend that began with “learning objectives.”

That change was from a primary focus on the subject matter or body of knowledge to a concentration on the skills or application derived from the teaching of the subject matter. Verbs emphasizing what students would be able to do or know after the learning process was complete replaced the rather vague verbs “comprehend” and “learn.” Learning objectives had to be measurable tasks or skills. The purpose was to redirect the energies of the teaching and learning process towards its effects on the students. This makes education more responsive to the needs of students and to the sectors of society that depend upon the successful results of higher education.

This emphasis on results, which is sometimes reflected in the term “accountability,” has not been replaced by a new fad. Instead, the trend has continued in the same direction. Student learning outcomes are like learning objectives in their focus on the measurable results of student learning. They differ in scope, however. The main difference between student learning outcomes and learning objectives is that learning objectives are discrete, individual tasks or skills that must be accomplished before the larger, broader goals of the course can be achieved. The overarching goals of the course, however, are the student learning outcomes.

The other change between learning objectives and student learning outcomes is that the new accreditation standards now require colleges to collect data on the success of students meeting those overarching goals. Colleges are then charged with analyzing the data and making changes that will result in more effective student learning.

Course-Level Student Learning Outcomes

Course Student Learning Outcomes are listed in course outlines and are available publicly through department websites. They are also described on the syllabi for all courses.

The Curriculum Handbook has an entire section on what is a good course-level SLO. Faculty consult this handbook when creating a new course. Those SLOs are indicated in the course outline and approved by the Curriculum Committee.

(please refer to section 2.3.6, pg. 40)

Course outlines and their SLOs are updated on a regular cycle, so the opportunity for refinement of SLOs and updating them to match current industry and educational needs is continual.

The Course Outline of Record is the official course document; it became official through a rigorous review process. The SLOs (or Major Learning Objectives) listed in the course record should be referred to at the beginning of the assessment process. 

  • How many SLOs are listed in the Course Record?
  •  Are the SLOs overarching (“big picture” learning for the course)
  • Are they smaller objectives (things learned in just one chapter, for instance)?

A large number may indicate that they are being phrased as objectives rather than outcomes.  Think about how your assessment plan can inform a future revision of your course outline of record.

EXAMPLES of Outcomes and Objectives:

Objective: Recognize how human-built infrastructure impacts the coastal environment

Outcome: Articulte how human activities impact the environment.

Objective:   Able to format a MS Word document according to MLA guidelines including   all document specifications (margins, headers, footers, use of styles, tab stops).

Outcome: Demonstrate proficiency in the use of word processing, spreadsheet, database, and presentation applications.

Program Student Learning Outcomes

Program Outcomes (disciplines, 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: for courses and instructional programs, these outcomes are focussed on student learning (SLOs or student-learning outcomes). [See Developing Program Outcomes for more information.]

Refining & Reviewing Outcomes

Whether writing course-level, program-level, or service-level outcomes, here are some suggested guidelines:

  • Focus on student behavior
  • Ensure an outcome is reasonable for student abilities
  • Use simple, specific action verbs
  • Ensure language is clear and easily understood 
  • Ensure outcome is measurable (can be observed and tested)
  • Identify an assessment method
  • State the desired performance criteria
  • Align with the key concepts of the course and/or program


Students will be able to compare and contrast historical perspectives of our world and describe the contributions of these historical perspectives.


Students should be able to understand significant trends, movements, and events in European history.

This course will provide learners with an overview of historical perspectives of our world and help them develop an appreciation for the contribution of these various perspective