The first step of the assessment process is to define what students should know, be able to do, and value. Student learning outcomes (SLO’s), or “learning outcomes” (the terms learning goals or learning objectives are also sometimes used) identify the essential components of learning in a program or course. All assessment activities should derive from SLOs that the faculty or an outside accreditation agency has defined as the most important dimensions of student learning.
There are four types of student learning outcomes:
- Cognitive – What knowledge do you want students to know? The focus is on internal mental processes or higher-order learning. Examples include: critical thinking, analysis, application of theory, etc.
- Factual – The focus is on what you want students to know, but the emphasis is on knowledge of facts, theories, processes and procedures.
- Behavioral – What do you want students to be able to do? Examples include: write and communicate well, public speaking, leadership, teamwork, analyze, etc.
- Affective – What do you want students to value or care about? Examples include: appreciation for art, diversity, literature; ethics; political awareness, etc.
Developing learning outcomes statements can be challenging, as many faculty often find it difficult to agree upon and narrow down the most critical components of the curriculum into just a few statements. A helpful way to limit the number of outcomes is by carefully reviewing each course in the curriculum and identifying the learning expectations of each course (see Step 2: Curriculum Mapping). Outcomes can be grouped into the following categories.
A tool that many educators have found helpful when developing learning outcomes is Bloom’s Taxonomy. Developed by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom and colleagues more than 60 years ago, the taxonomy, and its 2001 revision, is a hierarchical ordering of cognitive skills that range from the most simple (recollecting knowledge) to the most complex (evaluation and syntheses).
The taxonomy is paired with numerous action verbs that can be used to operationalize expected learning. Please see appendix for examples of verbs that are aligned with Bloom’s six levels.
Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs)
Program Learning Outcomes are statements that describe learning expectations across multiple courses in a curriculum. Experts suggest identifying six-to-ten program level outcomes to focus on. At BCC, most program’s PLOs are reflected in the college catalog and on programmatic websites. Program faculty are advised to periodically review these statements to ensure that they are still relevant and reflect recent changes to the curriculum.
Program learning outcomes assessment concerns how well the program, in totality, advances student learning. Some of the questions to be considered when assessing PLOs include:
- Does the curriculum support and reinforce what faculty want students to learn?
- Are all of the essential components of learning for a graduate of the program considered?
- Do students have enough opportunities to develop and master requisite skills and knowledge?
- Is there consistency in the learning between different course sections?
- Are students prepared for careers and/or transfer upon completion of the program?
Course Learning Outcomes
Course learning outcomes are more specific to what students should be able to do or know upon completion of a specific course. They should be closely aligned with the program level statements and should form the basis for developing outcomes at the program level.
Course assessment asks faculty to reflect on how well the course curriculum supports student learning. Among the questions to be answered are:
- How do learning activities support course outcomes?
- How do course assignments foster achievement of desired outcomes?
- Do students have adequate opportunity to develop requisite knowledge and skills?
- Are assignments structured in ways that help students evaluate their own progress?
- Are the course learning outcomes aligned with the program learning outcomes?
Regardless of the level of SLOs, according to Maki (2020) learning outcomes statements should:
- Contain concrete active verbs that identify what students should be able to demonstrate, represent, or produce over time
- Align with program- and institutional-level intended outcomes
- Map to the curriculum and co-curriculum
- Assess achievement of outcomes during the time that the student is enrolled.