Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) at College of San Mateo - Faculty Toolkit: Writing Learning Outcomes
Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)
Faculty Toolkit: Writing Learning Outcomes

Now that you've considered the principles behind writing meaningful, assessable learning outcomes, here are some points to remember as you write them.
  1. Outcomes should complete the sentence "Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to – "

Note: SLOs are framed to suggest that only *passing* students will be part of the assessment pool. This poses a few problems. First, most assessments for a given course are administered before the end of term, and thus can't anticipate students who will or will not pass. Second, if we only assess successful students, we will severely limit what we can learn from our outcomes assessments.

Despite the phrasing, many departments and disciplines administer their learning outcomes assessments to a random selection of students, including students who may well not pass the course. If this yields more useful information for you, go ahead.
  1. Outcomes should begin with a carefully chosen verb.

One helpful resource is Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive skills. This differentiates between levels of learning, from memorization of facts, to synthesizing new ideas and arguments. Each type of learning can be suggested by the choice of verb. Courses that satisfy critical thinking requirements, for instance, should have learning outcomes that ask students to "create," "evaluate," "analyze," "solve" – as appropriate. Courses that require students to master a body of information might have learning outcomes that call for students to "recite," "remember," "list," or "state."

Here is a guide to some of the verbs you might use. This list is not exhaustive, nor does it suit all learning outcomes – but it's a start.

LevelDefinitionVerbs: Student will demonstrate an ability to - 

Creating new ideas, methods, arguments, or propositions; synthesizing ideas to form new ones create, hypothesize, construct, present, deduce, compose, formulate, solve, argue for, develop, conclude, make
Evaluating Evaluating the merit of ideas, methods, arguments or information using specific, relevant criteria assess, evaluate, appraise, recommend, conclude, summarize, explain, value, prioritize, judge, dispute, argue
Analyzing Breaking down ideas, arguments or information into component parts so as to better understand it analyze, deconstruct, explain, examine, solve, resolve, classify, contrast, diagram, break down, distinguish, identify, infer
Applying Ability to apply knowledge and understanding apply, construct, infer, show, relate, predict, solve, use, discover, modify
Understanding Ability to demonstrate knowledge and independent grasp of ideas or information interpret, understand, know, explain, distinguish, infer, translate, paraphrase, give examples, estimate
Remembering Retention of ideas or information describe, identify, know, label, outline, state, define, recognize, summarize
  1. Outcomes should be mapped to program or General Education SLOs

When you write course, program, certificate or support service learning outcomes, remember that they are not stand-alone goals. They should identify the distinct contribution that a course or service makes to a student's wider success outside of the classroom or support center.

When you create a new course, or revise an existing one, you will need to show how its learning outcomes connect to program-level learning outcomes (degree, certificate, or general education). 

When you create a new service, or revise an existing one, you will need to show how the learning outcomes contribute specifically to the student's success.

Program/Degree/Certificate SLOs

Program-level learning outcomes define the key knowledge, skills and abilities that students should expect to acquire as the result of completing a degree, certificate or program. These should summarize all the learning outcomes of the courses required by that degree, certificate or program.

Course SLOs

Student learning outcomes can help create coherence and purpose in and across programs, disciplines and support services. Education is supposed to take students somewhere; learning outcomes help us to say where, and identify stops along the way. This means that the learning outcomes for each course serve a purpose beyond the classroom.

For a course that forms part of a program, degree or certificate, each of the course SLOs should connect directly to Programs SLOs (PSLOs). A full map of the SLOs should clarify the specific contribution of each course to the overall program.

For a course that prepares students for future courses (for example, basic skills, developmental or pre-requisite courses), the course SLOs should be distinct from, and clearly related to, SLOs of subsequence courses.  A full map of the SLOs should clarify the specific contribution of each course to preparing the student for subsequent work.

Support Service SLOs

Instructional and Student Service learning outcomes do not, usually, define specific academic growth, and thus these SLOs don't usually tie directly to learning outcomes in other specific courses or programs.

In many cases, support services assist students with things essential to their success, but which don't appear on any course outline: things like financial aid, using the health services, counseling, or organizing accommodations for disabilities. In the case of instructional support services, like CSM's Learning Center or the academic labs, the benefit to student learning outcomes will be reflected across the board, and thus can't be tied to a particular set of courses or programs.

And many instructional and support services define specifically the knowledge, skills and abilities that students should take away from that lab or service, as well as how those skills will help them in their general academic career. The Reading Center SLOs, for instance, say that students should be able to "demonstrate greater comprehension, and/or vocabulary skills, and/or increased reading rate."  The CalWORKS's second learning outcome says that student will "learn how to manage the stress of being parents while attending CSM and having limited financial resources."

General Education SLOs

In 2013, CSM's Academic Senate adopted a set of learning outcomes for its general education program. These outcomes should encapsulate the overarching goals for our general education program, and are to be routinely assessed as part of a college-wide process.