Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) serve many functions through a typical semester. They appear on the course syllabus which serves as contract between the instructor and students, help guide choices for texts and lectures, inspire class activities and discussions, provide a basis for testing and evaluations (formative assessment), define the parameters of the course assessment at semester’s or program’s end (summative assessment), and often act as a catalyst in shaping future iterations of the course or program.


On the course level, the SLOs, sometimes referred to as Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs), not only establish the trajectory of the semester and function as guides for both instructor and students, they also serve the intellectual premise inherent in the recurring phrase What do I want my students to know and be able to do at the end of this semester or program?

On the program level, the SLO’s, sometimes referred to as Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs), are usually assessed across the spectrum of classes that comprise the program, the student’s knowledge and skills deepening as the she advances into upper level courses.  If the program has a concluding course or project, referred to as a capstone experience, the PLOs might be embedded in different actions or demonstrations of acquired knowledge that the student must perform on the capstone project to show mastery of all of the program’s outcomes.  Capstone experiences are desirable because they will often contain all the PLOs, but more often, a program’s outcomes are distributed across the content courses.  In that case, both course and program can be assessed jointly, as the CLOs are reflective of the PLOs and the outcomes will align.

Developing SLOs for a program is a collaborative effort, one that brings together the department’s professor-experts to discuss crucial aspects of their program and voice areas of concern.  Ultimately, they are the overseers, those who make sure the program  is effectively teaching what is essential for the student.  The assessment mantra for the program is the same maxim: What do I want my students to know and be able to do at the end of this semester?


Course Goals and Course Learning Outcomes are different, though they mingle and sometimes swing to the same beat.  A Department of Classics might offer a course entitled, “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.”  Under the section of the syllabus entitled “Course Goals,” we find information about the course itself, such as what content will be taught, what ideas and materials students will be exposed to, how the course extends skills or knowledge that were acquired in a previous course, where the course fits into an overall Ancient History program.

Course Goals:

  • Through lectures, discussions and films we will explore some of the key events leading to the Roman Empire’s expansion and its later decline.
  • Our readings will illustrate aspects of Roman culture such as art, poetry, religion. architecture and the daily life of an “average” Roman.
  • At different points in the semester I will post additional readings on Blackboard in certain: the formation of a senatorial government, religion as a conquering element, how slavery of conquered peoples boosted the Roman economy.
  • Students are expected to read 20-30 pages per week to keep up with our progression through 500 years of Roman empire.

Course Learning Outcomes:

Students will:

  • Outline a composite map showing the greatest extent of the Roman empire.
  • Explain the political and geographical reasons for the Roman empire’s decline.
  • Analyze  the following dynasties—Julio-Claudian, Flavian, Severan, and Theodosian—for their nationalistic policies governing the Empire.
  • Contrast an ancient secondary source to contemporary scholarship on one of the following elements of Roman Society: Imperialism, slavery, ruling class, the role of a governing senate.

Notice the strong verb introducing each outcome.


Course Goals are the responsibilities and activities of the professor, as well as the ideas,  concepts, and facts that the course will introduce to the student.

Course Learning Outcomes are what the student should know or demonstrate by semester’s end.  Strong active verbs put the student into motion as the verb indicates that responsibility for demonstrating knowledge, skills, or values belongs to the student.

TIP: You should avoid the verbs understand, learn and know when writing outcomes.  They do not require action on the student’s part.  We cannot assess what a student might understand, have learned, or know except by how they demonstrate their knowledge.  The action of the strong verb asked in the outcome equals the action a student needs to perform to demonstrate mastery.


Student will summarize a New York Times Magazine article. (English)

Student will explain the function of DNA in human development. (Biology)

Student will demonstrate the procedure for calming an anxious patient. (Nursing)

Student will detail effects of global warming on shore-line populations. (Environmental)

Student will play the 1st movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. (Music)

Student will add, subtract, multiply, and divide algebraic expressions. (Mathematics)

Student will analyze and present significant data in a laboratory report. (Physics)

Student will analyze the historical development of a 20th Century dictatorship. (History)

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