Student Learning Outcomes

Course syllabi traditionally provide students with an overview of the course, topics that will be covered, a list of readings and assignments and due dates, a description of your grading system and class attendance policies. This handout focuses on ways you might include student learning outcomes on your course syllabus.

As part of our Middle States accreditation, student learning outcomes need to be a part of all course syllabi.

Student Learning Outcomes focus on what you expect students to learn in the course. These statements are specific and measurable. They help you determine how students will demonstrate mastery of the material and skills covered in your course. They can begin with the phrase: “Students will be able to”. Here are some examples:

Present alternative theories of_________________________________.
Apply ________________________to ________________________.
Analyze the relationship between ________ ____and ______________.
Compare and contrast the following theories with regard to______________
Critically examine _____________, grounding their own opinion in theories covered in the course…

Student learning outcomes do not specify what is taught or course content: instead, they focus on the knowledge, skills and dispositions you expect students to demonstrate. They also form your assessment and evaluation.
Other terms that might be used to define learning outcomes: describe, research, identify, categorize, explain, demonstrate, perform, write, evaluate, report, create, discuss, appraise, synthesize, construct, design, present.

Learning outcomes also express the sophistication of your expectations. For example, describing how a process works or defining content related terms may be important in a given course but will be less complex than tasks that require students to analyze, synthesize or demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Student Learning Outcomes Connect to Course Assessment and Grading Policies

The more clearly you state your student learning outcomes, the easier it is to tie them to assessment measures: tests, quizzes, research papers, reflections, presentations, internships, group projects, experiments or performances.  The chart below illustrates how this might work. I.e. for each student learning outcome, how will your students demonstrate competency? Will it be an exam question, a paper topic, the focus of an individual or group presentation? What will students need to do or write to demonstrate to you that they have mastered a concept or skill? For example:

Students will be able to investigate, critique, evaluate:
Research paper, exam question, laboratory experiment

Students will be able to collaborate, identify multiple perspectives:
Group task or project, peer editing, assignments given at the start of the semester and revised at the end

Students will be able to demonstrate, implement, create, apply:
Internship, group project, experiment, performance, research paper 

Students will be able to analyze, synthesize, evaluate:
Research paper, exam question, project 

Students will be able to describe, compare/contrast, critically examine:
Research paper, exam question, demonstration, group project, performance

How Many Student Learning Outcomes do you want to Include?

When deciding how many student learning outcomes to include on your syllabus, you might consider the following:

  • What is the most important content for students to learn?
  • Which specific skills do you want students to acquire or refine in this course?
  • Which dispositions/attitudes do you want to emphasize in this course?

There is no set number of recommended learning outcomes; if you consider at least one or two per course goal you can ensure that you have the information you need to assess student competency and understanding.