Articulate Student Learning Outcomes

Program outcomes provide coherence to a curriculum. They demonstrate how course goals relate to program goals and provide guidance on what should be taught, learned, and assessed. While the assessment literature uses different terms to describe what we want students to learn, GW uses the terms learning outcomes, goals, objectives, competencies, and proficiencies interchangeably. Whatever term is used, program outcomes should include what students are expected to learn and the observable behavior (outcome) that demonstrates the knowledge, skills, and competencies that students are expected to achieve upon completion of the program.

Each program should identify 3-5 of its most important learning outcomes. Each degree is responsible for assessing at least one goal annually or all goals within a five-year cycle. (Programs that have professional accreditations may use the learning outcomes defined by their accrediting bodies, if this is more convenient.)

Student learning outcomes should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are still relevant. They may be revised or deleted, and new goals may be added.

Writing Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are formal statements that articulate what students are able to do, know, and think at the end of a course or a program. Typically, they are written as a subject (student) plus an action verb that identifies the level of learning and cognitive skill that will be demonstrated by the student’s performance on a task.

Questions to Consider:

  • What knowledge, skills, and abilities do you expect graduates of the program to know and be able to do when they complete their degree?
  • How will students be able to demonstrates these capacities?
  • How do these goals reflect the mission and aspirations of the program or degree?
  • What discipline-specific outcomes are required for accreditation?
  • How well does the program prepare students for careers, graduate or professional study, and / or life-long learning?
Examples of Student Learning Outcomes
  • Students will be able to distinguish between primary and secondary sources and use them appropriately in their research.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate their understanding of proofs by determining whether or not an argument is valid.
  • Students will be able to explore information resources through both the traditional library and emerging technological sources—to use them effectively and to acknowledge them correctly.
  • Students will be able to generate appropriate statistical measures to test hypotheses and determine which outcomes support (or do not support) the hypotheses.

More information about writing learning outcomes can be found in the article “How to Write Program Objectives/Objectives” (PDF) developed at the University of Connecticut.