Student Learning Outcomes


By Lauren Hasten, former SLO Committee Chair at LPC

Below are some frequently asked questions about Student Learning Outcomes:

What is an SLO?

An SLO, or Student Learning Outcome, is essentially a goal that you set for both your students and yourself. What do you expect your students to have learned by the end of the semester? What are the primary things that you want to teach them? These are your SLOs. Such goals can be put into play at multiple levels.

  1. Assignment-level SLOs: What is the purpose of the assignment? What particular skills or knowledge does it attempt to measure? How does it relate to the overall content and themes of the course?
  2. Course-level SLOs: What is the purpose of the course? What particular skills or knowledge does it attempt to communicate? What do you expect students who complete the course to have learned? How does this relate to the overall content and purpose of your Program?
  3. Program-level SLOs: What is the purpose of your Program? What skills or knowledge do you expect students who take multiple courses in the Program to come away with? What are the consistent themes that carry over from course to course? How do these themes relate to our Institutional goals?
  4. Institutional SLOs: What is the purpose of the College? What skills or knowledge should every LPC graduate have acquired while attending classes here? These questions have already been largely addressed by the excellent prior work done in formulating the College's list of Core Competencies.

We address these competencies in five broad areas:

    • Communication
    • Critical Thinking
    • Creativity and Aesthetics
    • Respect and Responsibility
    • Technology

Are there any other definitions that might make this a little clearer?

From Cabrillo College: "A Student Learning Outcome is different from a course objective. SLOs for the classroom describe the knowledge, skills, abilities or attitudes that a student can demonstrate by the end of your course."

From Skyline College: "Student Learning Outcomes are the degree to which students are learning what is intended for them to learn, whether on the course, program, or institutional level."

From Oxnard College: "A student learning outcome is a statement of expectation that articulates what students will know, do, or feel as a result of a 'treatment' where what students have learned is assessed, documented, and used for improving learning."

From Diablo Valley College: "A student learning outcome is a statement of what a learner is expected to know, understand or be able to do as a result of a learning process. The intended educational outcomes must be consistent with the institutional mission."

How do SLOs differ from the "Expected Outcomes" listed on our course outlines?

When drafting Title V compliant course outlines, you are asked to list "Expected Outcomes," which can be thought of as the main topics that will be addressed by the course. This list must be exhaustive enough to meet the requirements of equivalent classes at UC and CSU so that our course will articulate. This can be thought of as the "microcontent" of the class: the specifics of what faculty are expected to cover when teaching a particular course.

SLOs operate at the "macro" level, in that they ask you to address the bigger picture. They shift the emphasis from the specifics of what is being taught to the generality of what has actually been learned. For example, if you are teaching your daughter to put on her seatbelt, adjust her mirrors, start the car, put on her turn signal, turn her head to look behind her and then pull out of the parking spot, then she is learning to drive.

From Skyline College: "The key difference between objectives and outcomes is the shift in focus from what we teach to what we expect students to learn and ideally master. Lisa Brewster of Miramar Community College, which recently underwent accreditation, cited the following example from a career course. One objective is for instructors 'to provide students with opportunities to develop their leadership skills.'

The outcome, on the other hand, is for students 'to develop leadership, organizational, and interpersonal skills, and be able to express them in a job interview.' Note that this outcome example also provides a context for learning and moves toward a means to evaluate the student's performance. In short, SLO's demonstrate the extent to which student performance meets expectations of learning."

What does an SLO look like?

SLOs use active words to demonstrate the degree to which students are internalizing the lessons of their coursework. According to Bloom's Taxonomy, the greater the level of abstraction to which students can demonstrate their newly acquired knowledge, the more thoroughly the knowledge has been acquired.

If you want your students to acquire and demonstrate one of the skills listed in Bloom's Taxonomy -- Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation -- use a corresponding verb from the chart linked here.

Can you show me some sample SLOs?

Here are a bunch from different disciplines.

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

AMERICAN HISTORY - Demonstrate knowledge of a basic narrative of American History: political, economic, social, and cultural, including knowledge of unity and diversity in American society. (SUNY Brockport, NY)

ANTHROPOLOGY - Forensic Anthropology: Using the basic principles of forensic anthropology, analyze skeletonized human remains to determine sex, age at death, height and genetic ancestry. (Cabrillo College, CA)

ATHLETICS - Preseason Intercollegiate Water Polo - Men: Analyze and customize principles of cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility to water polo, and apply them to prevent injury. (Cabrillo College, CA)

ART HISTORY - Given two paintings – each from a different historical period – determine which period each is from, describe how imagery is used in each, and contrast how each reflects the cultural norms of the period. (Miami University, OH)

CHEMISTRY - Students will identify a suitable research question, design an appropriate experimental procedure to resolve the question, carry out the experiment, and report the results in a format appropriate for a scientific journal. (Miami University, OH)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE - Describe the principles of community-based policing and apply them to given situations. (California Assessment Institute)

DANCE - Street Dance and Hip Hop: Perform, with an increasing degree of proficiency, simple Hip Hop movements, demonstrating increasing control of skills pertaining to memorization, physical safety, body awareness, alignment, and aesthetic valuing. (Cabrillo College, CA)

GEOLOGY - Analyze how the earth's oceans are a part of the earth's systems from geological, chemical, biological and physical perspectives. (Miami University, OH)

MATH - Given a geometric system, students will determine what algebraic properties apply to this system. (Miami University, OH)

PHOTOGRAPHY - Manually operate a 35 mm camera to create original photographs applying principles of exposure and development of black and white photographic films and papers with concepts of composition and design, aesthetics and content. (California Assessment Institute)

SPEECH - Organize, outline and deliver well-researched speeches to inform and persuade that are tailored to a specific audience. (California Assessment Institute)

THEATER - Intro to Acting: Select, analyze, and perform selections from dramatic texts utilizing the performance skills of memorization, vocal projection, spatial awareness, stage directions and physical expression. (Cabrillo College, CA)

What about assessment?

If you set a goal, you need to have a way of determining whether or not it has been met, and to what extent; this is the purpose of assessment. Further, if you determine that your goal has not been met, you are now in a better position to change your strategy to assure success the next time.

The primary rule to be applied when formulating SLOs is that they must be assessable; there must be some way to measure student success in achieving those goals. We are all already measuring student success with our exams and assignments; we need only codify the process by specifying exactly what our goals are and measuring how well they are being met.

What exactly is the difference between an A and a B, a B and a C, and so on? What criteria must be met in order for students to demonstrate to you that they have achieved the desired outcome?

When you formulate your course-level SLOs, ask yourself which exams or assignments you have been using to assess them. Do you assign a final essay with the expectation that students will necessarily refer to certain points of information from their studies? Do you administer a final exam with sets of questions that test different areas of the coursework covered? Do you evaluate a final project by looking for certain criteria to be fulfilled?

The essay, exam, or project is the assessment tool, and recognizing the criteria by which you judge it is the first step toward constructing a rubric.

What are rubrics?

A rubric is a list of rules you make up for yourself when you set out to grade an exam or assignment. Ask yourself what skills or knowledge you would like your students to demonstrate in that assignment, how you expect them to be demonstrated, and what constitutes perfect, average, and substandard performance.

Once you figure out exactly what it is that you're looking for, you can give that information to your students -- who will no longer be in the dark as to what your expectations are. Once you have designed a rubric, your grading policies will not only be transparent to your students, but they will also be more consistent. Grading papers will probably go a lot faster, too.

Do you have any sample rubrics to see?

Click to view example (PDF)

How can I get started?

Click the link on the left called The SLO Process to learn to write SLOs, prepare your assessment, measure your outcomes, and apply the lessons learned.


Student Learning Outcomes

John Ruys
SLO Committee Co-Chair

Ann Hight
SLO Committee Co-Chair

Madeline Wiest
Curriculum and SLO Specialist

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Page last modified: April 25, 2017