Learning outcomes at the institutional level are likely to be more broadly stated than those at the program level and those at the program level are likely to be more broadly stated than those at the course level. However, achieving the more specific learning outcomes that we develop for a course or even for a specific class period should help students make progress toward achieving program and/or institutional outcomes. Although not every course SLO may relate to an Institutional SLO or Program SLO, it is important to identify and assess those links when possible. When planning classroom activities to assess learning outcomes, consider ways to incorporate Institutional SLOs and/or Program SLOs in those activities.

Tips for Writing SLOs

  1. Keep in mind three types of outcomes:
    1. Cognitive - knowledge related to a discipline
      Example: Students will be able to identify major muscles groups.
    2. Skills and abilities - physical and intellectual skills related to a discipline
      Example: Students will be able to solve calculation problems involving integers without a calculator.
    3. Affective - attitudes, behaviors and values related to a discipline
      Example: Students will apply effective language learning strategies.
    4. When writing SLOs think S.M.A.R.T*

S = Student Focused

Ask what students can do, apply or demonstrate.
NOT What did we teach?

M = Measurable

(or observable) Do not be too vague.

A = Action-oriented

Use action verbs and Bloom's taxonomy.

R = Reasonable

Ensure SLOs are appropriate for the course level; written in language students can understand; aligned with other courses in the sequence or program (if applicable).

T = Time-specific

Make sure SLOs can be achieved during the course

To ensure the SLOs are measurable or observable, it is a good idea to develop the method of assessment along with the SLO.

WASC Senior College and University Commission

Rubric for Assessing the Quality of Academic Program Learning Outcomes





Highly Developed

Comprehensive List

The list of outcomes is problematic: e.g., very incomplete, overly detailed, inappropriate, disorganized. It may include only discipline-specific learning, ignoring relevant institution-wide learning. The list may confuse learning processes (e.g., doing an internship) with learning outcomes (e.g., application of theory to real-world problems).

The list includes reasonable outcomes but does not specify expectations for the program as a whole. Relevant institution-wide learning outcomes and/or national disciplinary standards may be ignored. Distinctions between expectations for undergraduate and graduate programs may be unclear.

The list is a well-organized set of reasonable outcomes that focus on the key knowledge, skills, and values students learn in the program. It includes relevant institution-wide outcomes (e.g., communication or critical thinking skills). Outcomes are appropriate for the level (undergraduate vs. graduate); national disciplinary standards have been considered.

The list is reasonable, appropriate, and comprehensive, with clear distinctions between undergraduate and graduate expectations, if applicable. National disciplinary standards have been considered. Faculty have agreed on explicit criteria for assessing students' level of mastery of each outcome.



Outcome statements do not identify what students can do to demonstrate learning. Statements such as "Students understand scientific method" do not specify how understanding can be demonstrated and assessed.

Most of the outcomes indicate how students can demonstrate their learning.

Each outcome describes how students can demonstrate learning, e.g., "Graduates can write reports in APA style" or "Graduates can make original contributions to biological knowledge."

Outcomes describe how students can demonstrate their learning. Faculty have agreed on explicit criteria statements, such as rubrics, and have identified examples of student performance at varying levels for each outcome.


There is no clear relationship between the outcomes and the curriculum that students experience.

Students appear to be given reasonable opportunities to develop the outcomes in the required curriculum.

The curriculum is designed to provide opportunities for students to learn and to develop increasing sophistication with respect to each outcome. This design may be summarized in a curriculum map.

Pedagogy, grading, the curriculum, relevant student support services, and co-curriculum are explicitly and intentionally aligned with each outcome. Curriculum map indicates increasing levels of proficiency.

Assessment Planning

There is no formal plan for assessing each outcome.

The program relies on short-term planning, such as selecting which outcome(s) to assess in the current year.

The program has a reasonable, multi-year assessment plan that identifies when each outcome will be assessed. The plan may explicitly include analysis and implementation of improvements.

The program has a fully-articulated, sustainable, multi-year assessment plan that describes when and how each outcome will be assessed and how improvements based on findings will be implemented. The plan is routinely examined and revised, as needed.

The Student Experience

Students know little or nothing about the overall outcomes of the program. Communication of outcomes to students, e.g. in syllabi or catalog, is spotty or nonexistent.

Students have some knowledge of program outcomes. Communication is occasional and informal, left to individual faculty or advisors.

Students have a good grasp of program outcomes. They may use them to guide their own learning. Outcomes are included in most syllabi and are readily available in the catalog, on the web page, and elsewhere.

Students are well-acquainted with program outcomes and may participate in creation and use of rubrics. They are skilled at self-assessing in relation to the outcomes and levels of performance. Program policy calls for inclusion of outcomes in all course syllabi, and they are readily available in other program documents.

How Visiting Team Members Can Use the Learning Outcomes Rubric

Conclusions should be based on a review of learning outcomes and assessment plans. Although you can make some preliminary judgments about alignment based on examining the curriculum or a curriculum map, you will have to interview key departmental representatives, such as department chairs, faculty, and students, to fully evaluate the alignment of the learning environment with the outcomes.

The rubric has five major dimensions:

  1. Comprehensive List. The set of program learning outcomes should be a short but comprehensive list of the most important knowledge, skills, and values students learn in the program, including relevant institution-wide outcomes such as those dealing with communication skills, critical thinking, or information literacy. Faculty generally should expect higher levels of sophistication for graduate programs than for undergraduate programs, and they should consider national disciplinary standards when developing and refining their outcomes, if available. There is no strict rule concerning the optimum number of outcomes, but quality is more important than quantity. Faculty should not confuse learning processes (e.g., completing an internship) with learning outcomes (what is learned in the internship, such as application of theory to real-world practice). Questions. Is the list reasonable, appropriate and well-organized? Are relevant institution-wide outcomes, such as information literacy, included? Are distinctions between undergraduate and graduate outcomes clear? Have national disciplinary standards been considered when developing and refining the outcomes? Are explicit criteria - as defined in a rubric, for example - available for each outcome?
  2. Assessable Outcomes. Outcome statements should specify what students can do to demonstrate their learning. For example, an outcome might state that "Graduates of our program can collaborate effectively to reach a common goal" or that "Graduates of our program can design research studies to test theories and examine issues relevant to our discipline." These outcomes are assessable because faculty can observe the quality of collaboration in teams, and they can review the quality of student-created research designs. Criteria for assessing student products or behaviors usually are specified in rubrics, and the department should develop examples of varying levels of student performance (i.e., work that does not meet expectations, meets expectations, and exceeds expectations) to illustrate levels. Questions. Do the outcomes clarify how students can demonstrate learning? Have the faculty agreed on explicit criteria, such as rubrics, for assessing each outcome? Do they have examples of work representing different levels of mastery for each outcome?
  3. Alignment. Students cannot be held responsible for mastering learning outcomes unless they have participated in a program that systematically supports their development. The curriculum should be explicitly designed to provide opportunities for students to develop increasing sophistication with respect to each outcome. This design often is summarized in a curriculum map—a matrix that shows the relationship between courses in the required curriculum and the program's learning outcomes. Pedagogy and grading should be aligned with outcomes to foster and encourage student growth and to provide students helpful feedback on their development. Since learning occurs within and outside the classroom, relevant student services (e.g., advising and tutoring centers) and co-curriculum (e.g., student clubs and campus events) should be designed to support the outcomes. Questions. Is the curriculum explicitly aligned with the program outcomes? Do faculty select effective pedagogy and use grading to promote learning? Are student support services and the co-curriculum explicitly aligned to promote student development of the learning outcomes?
  4. Assessment Planning. Faculty should develop explicit plans for assessing each outcome. Programs need not assess every outcome every year, but faculty should have a plan to cycle through the outcomes over a reasonable period of time, such as the period for program review cycles. Questions. Does the plan clarify when, how, and how often each outcome will be assessed? Will all outcomes be assessed over a reasonable period of time? Is the plan sustainable, in terms of human, fiscal, and other resources? Are assessment plans revised, as needed?
  5. The Student Experience. At a minimum, students should be aware of the learning outcomes of the program(s) in which they are enrolled; ideally, they should be included as partners in defining and applying the outcomes and the criteria for levels of sophistication. Thus it is essential to communicate learning outcomes to students consistently and meaningfully. Questions: Are the outcomes communicated to students? Do students understand what the outcomes mean and how they can further their own learning? Do students use the outcomes and criteria to self-assess? Do they participate in reviews of outcomes, criteria, curriculum design, or related activities?