Student Learning Outcomes

Before meaningful program assessment work can happen, department and program faculty agree on goals and outcomes for the program and develop a strong curriculum plan.  Goals and outcomes are how each program articulates what skills, knowledge, or experiences students in the program should acquire. Goals are higher level, aspirational statements, while outcomes (sometimes called objectives) are specific and measurable.


Department goals can be found on their websites or in mission statements. Learning Goals are about what each department or program wants for its students: what kinds of knowledge, skills, or attributes they want students to develop. An example of program-level learning goals is below.

Students in the Folklore Studies program will:

  • (Folklore) Study informal, traditional, and expressive aspects of human culture, such as storytelling, mythmaking, ritual, folk art, dance, folk music, memes, and urban legends
  • (Theory) Learn about and apply folkloristic theoretical perspectives to understand cultural, historical, social, and psychological dimensions of human activity
  • (Fieldwork) Use ethnographic fieldwork methods to study how people invent, transform, and derive meaning from tradition
  • (Ethics) Understand and appropriately navigate the ethical dimensions of ethnography and fieldwork
  • (Ethnography) Practice producing and presenting ethnography in oral, print, film, and digital mediums
  • (Community) Understand relationships between identity, community, and expressive traditions
  • (Culture) Cultivate a critical understanding of their own and other cultures

Programs at UWM report assessment data organized by goals.  Each goal has one or more associated program learning outcomes, which clarify how each goal is measured or assessed.  The verbs for goals are general and aspirational, which allows them to be flexibly adapted into multiple outcomes for different courses, but this flexibility also means they cannot be used effectively for assessment by themselves. The verb “to understand,” for example, is acceptable for a goal statement, but is too vague for an outcomes statement.

Strategic Goals are goals aimed at maintaining or improving the program’s ability to support student learning and fulfill its mission.  In addition to student learning, strategic goals might address issues like retention, enrollment, job placement, equity, student satisfaction, community engagement, or any other concerns tied the program mission.  Strategic goals and outcomes are included in each program’s assessment plan in addition to their learning goals and 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. Outcomes exist at the point of assessment, operationalizing broad goals into specific and attainable objectives.

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.

To write them, faculty ask what skills, knowledge, or proficiencies students graduating from the program should have. The example below presents sample program learning outcomes from a fictional program.

Students graduating from the Folklore Program will be able to:

PLO1:  Identify, describe, and explain several common forms of folklore and folklife. [Folklore]

PLO2:  Accurately explain and discuss the uses and limits of folkloristic approaches, including structuralism, functionalism, structural functionalism, and performance theory. [Theory]

PLO3:  Accurately describe the ideas and impact of historical figures that influenced the field of Folklore Studies. [Theory]

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

PLO5:  Explicitly and responsibly reflect on the ethical dimensions of the student’s ethnographic research projects and ethnographic writing in field notes and a reflective essay. [Ethics]

PLO6:  Compose and present effective ethnographic texts in print, film, or digital formats. [Ethnography]

PLO7:  Effectively apply folkloristic theories and perspectives to create arguments about the meaning and significance of particular cultural traditions. [Theory]

PLO8:  Explain and explore specific examples of the role of folklore and tradition in shaping identity and community. [Community]

PLO9:  Contextualize and explain the social significances of specific traditional, informal, or expressive cultural activities from several different cultures. [Culture]

Program Learning Outcomes should be:

  • Brief
  • Use a verb that is observable, demonstrable, or measurable
  • Reflect actual knowledge or skills faculty want students to achieve
  • 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)

For a more detailed discussion of crafting Program Learning Outcomes, see A Program Assessment Guide.

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.