Student Learning Outcomes

Before meaningful program assessment work can happen, department and program faculty agree on program learning outcomes for the program and develop a strong curriculum plan.  Learning outcomes are how each program articulates what skills, knowledge, or experiences students in the program should acquire.

Writing Learning Outcomes

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) are specific statements of what a student will know or do written to explain how the student will demonstrate that knowledge or ability. They are measurable, specific, and provide the evidence we need to determine if program goals are being met, and where potential areas of curriculum improvement might be.

Course learning outcomes communicate expectations to students, and help faculty evaluate if a student has demonstrated a skill or learning sufficiently to pass or earn a particular grade. The role of program learning outcomes (PLOs) is to establish what will be measured, demonstrated, or observed in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.  Course learning outcomes/objectives should be explicitly aligned with program learning outcomes (see Alignment and Curriculum Mapping below).

To write them, faculty ask what skills, knowledge, or proficiencies students graduating from the program should have. They generally follow the formula “Students graduating from this program will be able to verb followed by program content.”

The example below presents sample program learning outcomes from a fictional program.

Example Program Learning Outcomes:

Students graduating from the Folklore Program will be able to:

PLO1: Identify and describe common forms of folklore and folklife. [Disciplinary Knowledge; UWS Goal 1: Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Natural World]

PLO2: Accurately describe the ideas and impact of historical figures that influenced the field of Folklore Studies. [Disciplinary Knowledge]

PLO3: Accurately identify, explain, and contrast the uses and limits of folkloristic approaches, including structuralism, functionalism, structural functionalism, and performance theory. [Disciplinary Knowledge]

PLO4: Plan and carry out ethnographic research projects, including choosing an appropriate research subject, engaging in participant observation, interviewing informants, and keeping field notes. [Disciplinary Skill]

PLO5: Compose and present effective ethnographic texts in print, film, or digital formats. [UWS Goal 3: Effective Communication]

PLO6: Explicitly and responsibly reflect on the ethical dimensions, and their implications, of their own ethnographic research projects and ethnographic writing. [UWS Goal 5: Individual, Social and Environmental Responsibility]

PLO7: Apply folkloristic theories and perspectives to create arguments about the meaning and significance of specific cultural traditions. [Disciplinary Skill; UWS Goal 2: Critical and Creative Thinking]

PLO8: Investigate and create arguments about the roles of specific traditional, informal, or expressive cultural activities from several different cultures in shaping identities, beliefs, and communities. [UWS Goal 4: Intercultural Knowledge and Competence]

Program Learning Outcomes should be:

  • Brief
  • Narrowly aimed at specific knowledge areas, skills, or other program content (e.g., don’t combine too much into a single learning outcome)
  • Student-focused (“Students” should always be the grammatical subject of a program learning outcome).
  • Use a verb that is empirically observable, demonstrable, or measurable.
  • Reflect that complexity or cognitive level faculty want students to demonstrate (e.g., Bloom’s Taxonomy)
  • Be discipline-specific (for example, outcomes dealing with critical thinking should reflect the nature of critical thinking in the discipline)
  • Reflect the full and distinctive range of knowledge, skills, and values faculty expect from students graduating from their program
  • For undergraduate programs, be explicitly aligned with corresponding UW System Shared Learning Goals, where appropriate.

See Guidelines for Effective Program Learning Outcomes. 

Alignment and Mapping

Alignment and curriculum mapping are processes for making sure that goals and outcomes correspond to one another in ways that make sense, and that a program is systematically delivering content and opportunities to students that fulfill their stated goals and outcomes.

Alignment is the process of making sure that course outcomes, program outcomes, and institutional goals correspond with one another. Programs at UWM articulate how their program goals and outcomes correspond to the UW System Shared Learning Goals. While not all program outcomes will correspond to institutional goals, each program should have some aligned program goals or outcomes to clarify the program’s role in achieving institutional learning objectives. Similarly, courses are not limited to their program’s outcomes, but still need to make explicit how their content and learning align with program outcomes.  For more information about alignment, see Understanding Alignment.

Curriculum mapping is a formalized process of making explicit where, in the course of study, each program goal or outcome is being addressed. It clarifies in which course students will be first introduced to a concept or skill, which courses will develop their understanding or facility with that skill, and in which courses they will demonstrate mastery appropriate for a graduating senior. Most curriculum maps take the form of a simple chart listing program outcomes and courses. Only courses (or course groups) that are required are listed in the curriculum map. As part of the accreditation process, curriculum maps should be attached in WEAVE as supporting documents. See here for an example of a curriculum map.

See A Program Assessment Guide for more information about Alignment and Curriculum Mapping.