What are Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)?

Student learning outcomes are concise statements––made in specific and measurable terms––of what students will know and be able to do as the result of having successfully completed a program of study. SLOs can measure skills in 3 areas: cognitive, affective, and behavioral.

What is the difference between Course Objectives and Student Learning Outcomes?

Course objectives describe the discipline-specific content that you will cover in the course or the tasks that your students will complete. Student Learning Outcomes express higher-level thinking skills and can be observed as a behavior, skill, or discrete useable knowledge upon completing the course. Download more information below.  

file-outline objVsOutcomes.doc - objVsOutcomes.doc (38.5 KB)

Examples of Course Objectives Transformed into Student Learning Outcomes

Course Objectives
During this course students will:

  1. understand the five key provisions of the clean air act
  2. learn to calibrate a gas chromatograph
  3. write analytical essays on poetry in the cultural context of its period
  4. conduct fieldwork interviews using appropriate techniques
  5. study anthropological research methods for the study of specific problems

Student Learning Outcomes:
By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  1. identify five key provisions of the clean air act
  2. outline the procedure for calibrating a gas chromatograph
  3. interpret poetry in the cultural context of its period
  4. apply structured and semi-structured interviewing techniques in his/her fieldwork
  5. evaluate various anthropological research methods for the study of a specific problem

Why Should I Use SLOs?

Students benefit from clearly defined SLOs as they can help define growth through the course of a semester or over the course of a program. Faculty use SLOs to measure the efficacy of their teaching and assessment methods. Finally, strong SLOs are necessary for program assessment and accreditation. Departmental or programmatic learning outcomes broadly describe the learning that will take place across the curriculum.

Tips for Writing SLOs

Good SLOs use verbs that are clear, measurable, or that describe an observable action. Use action verbs from Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.

Examples of Strong SLOs:

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the role that culture plays in our interpretations of developmental norms and individual differences across the lifespan.

  • Assess the biographical and historical influences on the creation of a piece of literature.

  • Analyze the processes for handling juvenile offenders in various correctional settings.

Examples of SLOs Needing Improvement:

  • Too broad: Students will analyze global political systems. (Better: Students will analyze 20th century western democracies and responsibilities of citizens in those democracies.)

  • Too narrow: Students will use a microscope.(Better: Students will use laboratory equipment to analyze tissue samples.)

  • Not measurable: Students will understand the causes of World War II. (Better: Students will be able to describe the causes of World War II.)

  • Too prescriptive: Given data on three Pre- Columbian cultures, the student will write a 1,000-1,200 word essay analyzing the geographical influences on the development of those societies. (Better: Given data on three Pre- Columbian cultures, the student will analyze the geographical influences on the development of those societies.)

SLOs and Course Level

SLOs should correspond to the course level. Introductory-level courses will primarily engage with the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (areas of knowledge and comprehension). Mid-level courses ideally build skills in the areas of application and analysis. Capstone and 400-level courses exercise synthesis, evaluation, and creation skills.

(See https://www.missouristate.edu/assets/fctl/Blooms_Taxonomy_Action_Verbs.pdf )

Good SLOs are SMART:

Specific: The outcome should be explicit about what will happen, where, and to whom.
Measurable: The outcome should identify the threshold for success.
Achievable: For students, ask, “Is this an achievable outcome, or an aspiration?” For program outcomes, take into account your resources: time, people, money, knowledge, etc.
Relevant: The outcome must be logically related to your objectives, goals, and mission.
Time Sensitive: The outcome should be bound to a specific time frame.

Structure of a Learning Outcome (ABCD):

  • Audience/Who
    Who does the outcome pertain to?
  • Behavior/What
    What do you expect the audience to know/be able to do? (This needs to include an action verb to describe the learning, chosen from the Bloom’s Taxonomy word bank.)
  • Condition/How
    Under what conditions or circumstances will the learning occur?
  • Degree/How much
    ​​​​​​​How much will be accomplished, how well will the behavior need to be performed, and to what level?

Elements to consider when developing outcomes:

  • Identify the overarching/broader goal your outcome is going to support:
  • Identify the audience: (typically students enrolled in your course)
  • What do you want the audience to be able to know, think, or be able to do? (Be specific!)
  • What circumstances or context will foster the learning? (reading, discussion, activity, debate, presentation, etc.)
  • To what degree will the learning occur? (Be specific!)
  • How will you measure the learning? How will students demonstrate their learning to you?


How do I write course SLOs?


How do I create SLOs for a department or program?


An SLO Worksheet:

Audience: _____________________________________________________________

Behavior: ________________________________________________

Condition: ___________________________

Degree: _____________________________

Check Yourself:



Not Sure

Is the outcome specific?

Is the outcome measurable?

Is the outcome achievable?

Is the outcome appropriate for the course level?

Rewrite the learning outcome statement to correct any issues: