Learning outcomes clearly state the expected knowledge, skills, attitudes, competencies, and habits of mind that students are expected to acquire from an educational experience.  Student learning outcomes (SLOs) are articulated for courses and program learning outcomes (PLOs) are articulated for programs.

Why Do We Use Learning Outcomes?

We seek to provide a holistic learning experience to all students, in and out of the classroom. We take responsibility for the quality of our educational programs, learning environments and support services, and we evaluate their effectiveness in fulfilling our mission through procedures designed to promote continuous improvement and student success.

Our commitment to measurable learning outcomes provides transparent expectations for our courses and curricular/co-curricular programs.  Learners understand what they will know, do, and demonstrate by the end of the course or program.

An effective set of learning outcome statements informs and guides both the instructor and the students.

For instructors, they inform:

  • the content of teaching
  • teaching strategies
  • the sorts of learning activities/tasks set for students
  • appropriate assessment tasks
  • course evaluation

For students, they provide:

  • a solid framework to guide their studies and assist them in preparing for their assessment
  • knowledge, skills and abilities they will be able to do or demonstrate upon completion of the experience

Course-Level Student Learning Outcomes in Syllabi

At Ball State, all primary syllabi include four components (at minimum):

  1. course description
  2. course objectives (student learning outcomes or SLOs)
  3. course rationale
  4. course content, format, and bibliography

The objectives / SLOs should consistently appear on all primary syllabi and on all course syllabi used by faculty.  Typically, courses will have 4-7 SLOs articulated on the syllabus.  Multi-section courses must have identical SLOs across all sections of the course, adhering to the SLOs listed in the primary syllabus.

Program-Level Learning Outcomes

Program learning outcomes (PLOs) should be transparent to administrators, faculty, and students.  Typically, programs will have 3-7 PLOs, although some programs will have more required by specialized accreditors.  Program learning outcomes are identical across all delivery modes of the program (on campus, online, or at a different location) to ensure the rigor and quality of each educational program is consistent regardless of modality, location or other differentiating factors. 

According to the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), transparent program learning outcomes are:

  • specific to the program
  • clearly expressed and understandable by multiple audiences
  • prominently posted or linked to multiple places across the website
  • updated regularly to reflect current outcomes
  • receptive to feedback or comments on the quality and utility of the information provided

How to Develop Measurable Learning Outcomes

Measurable learning outcomes are specific, demonstrable characteristics such as knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

Learning outcome statements may be broken down into three main components:

  • an action verb that identifies the performance to be demonstrated
  • a learning statement that specifies what learning will be demonstrated in the performance
  • a broad statement of the criterion or standard for desired performance
  • The student learning outcome verb is an action word that identifies the performance to be demonstrated.
  • The student learning outcome verb denotes the expected level of learning.
  • Verbs can be aligned with pedagogical and/or philosophical commitments.

Verbs such as know, understand, learn, and appreciate are not specific or measurable and are discouraged.  Verbs in Bloom's Taxonomy provide a practical way for faculty to (1) plan appropriate outcomes, instruction and curriculum, and (2) differentiate assessment activities appropriate for the progression of student learning.  Using appropriate verbs in Bloom's Taxonomy ensures that Ball State maintains learning outcomes that reflect a level of rigor commensurate with the program level and content of each of its educational programs.


  • The statement should describe the knowledge and abilities to be demonstrated (i.e., what students should know, value, or do).
    For example:
    • Identify and summarize the important feature of major periods in the history of western culture
    • Apply chemical concepts and principles to draw conclusions about chemical reactions
    • Demonstrate knowledge about the significance of current research in the field of psychology by writing a research paper
  • Suggested length is no more than 400 characters.


  • Can you envision a meaningful and manageable learning activity that will measure the student learning outcome?
  • Will the value of the assignment align with other course activities?
  • Can the student learning outcome and corresponding learning activity be understood by others in the discipline? Outside the discipline?
  • Does the outcome reflect a commitment to inclusivity and equity? According to NILOA, equity-minded assessment entails the following actions:
    • Check biases and ask reflective questions throughout the assessment process to address assumptions and positions of privilege.
    • Use multiple sources of evidence appropriate for the students being assessed and assessment effort.
    • Include student perspectives and take action based on perspectives.
    • Increase transparency in assessment results and actions taken.
    • Ensure collected data can be meaningfully disaggregated and interrogated.
    • Make evidence-based changes that address issues of equity that are context-specific.


The University of Central Florida (2008) developed a schema for S.M.A.R.T. student learning outcomes:


  • Define learning outcomes that are specific to your program. Include in clear and definite terms the expected abilities, knowledge, values, and attitudes a student who graduates from your program is expected to have.
  • Focus on intended outcomes that are critical to your program. When the data from the assessment process are known, these outcomes should create an opportunity to make improvements in the program that is being offered to your students.


  • The intended outcome should be one for which it is feasible to collect accurate and reliable data.
  • Consider your available resources (e.g., staff, technology, assessment support, institutional level surveys, etc.) in determining whether the collection of data for each student learning outcome is a reasonable expectation.
  • Include more than one measurement method that can be used to demonstrate that the students in a particular program have achieved the expected outcomes of that program.

Aggressive but Attainable

  • “Don’t let the perfect divert you from what is possible.” When defining the learning outcomes and setting targets, use targets that will move you in the direction of your vision, but do not try to “become perfect” all at once.
  • The following is a collection of questions that might help you to formulate and define aggressive but attainable outcomes for your program.
    • How have the students’ experiences in the program contributed to their abilities, knowledge, values, and attitudes? Ask:
      • Cognitive skills: What does the student know?
      • Performance skills: What does the student do?
      • Affective skills: What does the student care about?
    • What are the knowledge, abilities, values, and attitudes expected of graduates of the program?
    • What would the perfect program look like in terms of outcomes?
    • What would a good program look like in terms of outcomes?

Results-Oriented and Time-Bound

  • When defining the outcomes, it is important to describe where you would like to be within a specified time period (e.g., 10% improvement in exam scores within 1 year, 90% satisfaction rating for next year, 10% improvement in student communication performance within 2 years).
  • Determine what standards are expected from students in your program. For some learning outcomes, you may want 100% of graduates to achieve them. This expectation may be unrealistic for other outcomes.
  • Determine what proportion of your students achieve a specific level (e.g., 80% of graduates pass the written portion of the standardized test on the first attempt). If you have previously measured an outcome, it is helpful to use this as the baseline for setting a target for next year.

Examples of Alignment Between Program Learning Outcomes and Course Learning Outcomes

Below are several examples of measurable student learning outcomes for various academic areas. For a detailed look at the process of refining course-level student learning outcomes, see our in-depth guide (PDF).



Recognize and interpret igneous and metamorphic rocks.

Students will demonstrate how magma geochemistry relates to partial melting of the mantle by contrasting the outcomes of this process in different tectonic regimes through the critical analysis of specific case studies.



Explain the biochemical basis of drug design and development.

Students will apply the principles underpinning the use of molecular graphics in the design of drugs to illustrate general and specific cases through a computer-based presentation.



Analyze modes of satiric writing in the eighteenth century.

Students will analyze the relationship between the language of satire to literary form by the close examination of a selected number of 18th century texts in a written essay.

Reviewing Your Learning Outcomes

Once student learning outcomes have been drafted for a course or program, use our checklist to review them (PDF).

Want some help?

Contact Carole Kacius, Director of Assessment and Accreditation, to schedule and individual consultation if you would like help articulating measurable student learning outcomes (SLOs) or program learning outcomes (PLOs).  This informal, practical Zoom consultation will enable you to ask questions and review your SLOs (for courses) or PLOs (for programs) to ensure they are written in measurable terms using verbs appropriate for the level of course or program.