Identifying Student Learning Outcomes

Student Learning Outcomes are measurable statements that define what instructors expect students to learn in their courses. These statements can help you determine how students will demonstrate knowledge of course content and skills, as well as provide clarity for students.


1. Student Learning Outcomes define how instructors can recognize when a student has learned course content and met broader conceptual expectations.

Specific Student Learning Outcomes address both course content and the skills you want to emphasize in your course. For example, time management, critical thinking, problem solving, public speaking, or lab techniques are skills that could be included in Student Learning Outcomes.

2. Course Goals and Student Learning Outcomes are different.

Course goals are overview statements that create context for the course and illustrate what you most value. Student Learning Outcomes are measurable ‘products’ that clearly define what you hope students will learn during the course.

3. Include Student Learning Outcomes on your course syllabi.

Such inclusion is required by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (which accredits AU). It also provides a clear overview for students of what they are expected to learn in the course.

4. The number of Student Learning Outcomes you identify depends on your course content and goals.

There is no set number of recommended Learning Outcomes. Typically, 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. When deciding how many Student Learning Outcomes to include on your syllabus, 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?

5. Student Learning Outcomes must be specific and measurable.

It is helpful to craft Learning Outcomes by starting with a phrase such as “By the end of this course, students will be able to…,” followed by a list of several outcomes. This phrasing can help you to state your Outcomes in measurable terms.

6. Utilize conceptual frameworks such as Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives to find terms applicable for framing Student Learning Outcomes.

Here are key points from Bloom’s Taxonomy:

Level  Definition  Student Activity  Types of Questions to Ask 
Remember  Retrieve, recall, or recognize relevant knowledge from long-term memory  List the countries in Africa, match elements with their symbol, define capitalism  Who? What? Where? When? Why? Which one? How much? 
Understand  Demonstrate comprehension through one or more forms of explanation  Describe the characteristics of a paintingoutline the arguments for and against year-round educationtranslate a passage into English  Describe it. Explain in your own words. What does this mean? Give an example. What is the author saying? Show in a graph or table. 
Apply  Use information or a skill in a new situation  Calculate the kinetic energy of a projectile, classify minerals based on the material learned in class, predict whether items float better in fresh water or salt water  How would you/could you? How does? What would happen if? Judge the effects of. How much change there would be? 
Analyze  Break material into its constituent parts and determine how the parts relate to one another and/or to an overall structure or purpose  Contrast the causes of World War I and World War IIdeconstruct the argument in a persuasive essay, examine the results of an experiment to support a conclusion  Why did the authors write these poems? What situations exist during times of war? If this, then that. Compare and contrast. What is fact? What is opinion? What is the motive? The result? The premise? What is the main idea? 
Evaluate  Make judgments based on evidence or criteria  Evaluate a work of art, edit a paper, judge the merits of a technique  Which is more important? Logical? Ethical? Find the mistakes in. What are the inconsistencies? Do you agree? What is the next step? 
Create  Put elements together to form a new coherent or functional whole; reorganize elements into a new pattern or structure  Write an article, code a program, compose a poem, design a controlled experiment  What facts can you gather? Can you propose an alternative? How would you improve? How would you test? What changes would you make to solve? Can you formulate a theory for? 

7. If your course is an AU Core course those learning outcomes have already been created. 

Please look at the relevant section of the syllabus guide.

8. Align Student Learning Outcomes to assessment and grading.

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 such as tests, quizzes, research papers, reflections, presentations, internships, group projects, experiments, or performances. The chart below illustrates how you can pair Student Learning Outcomes to assessment measures:

Student Learning Outcome   Assessment Measures
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, an 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

9. Help your students understand the role of incorporating Student Learning Outcomes in your class.

Students may not be familiar with the term, yet they will be asked to comment on them at the end of the semester in their course evaluations. It can be useful to point them out in the course syllabus and to include them in the description of course assignments. For example, “The goal of this assignment connects to Student Learning Outcome … and enables you to ….” Providing such context helps students understand how course materials and assignments connect to your stated Learning Outcomes.

10. Evaluate Student Learning Outcomes throughout the semester.

By seeing Student Learning Outcomes as an ongoing component of your course, you both maintain your own perspective on what you hope students will learn and provide students with feedback throughout the semester.