IRA

Forms

var _gaq = _gaq || []; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-48720098-1']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']); (function() { var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true; ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + '.google-analytics.com/ga.js'; var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s); })();

Program Learning Outcomes

Guidelines for Writing Effective, Measurable Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs)

Effective learning outcomes highlight expected student behavior as well as the specific conditions and standards of performance by which students will be measured.

  • Expected Student Behavior – It is best to write learning outcomes in terms of an observable, behavioral outcome; essentially, learning outcomes should provide a description of what the student will be able to do. When writing the outcome in performance terminology, the selection of an effective action verb is of utmost importance. The use of a clear, targeted verb provides directions about the expectations of student performance at the completion of instructional activities. Because the verb provides the desired direction of emphasis, it is important to choose a verb that is focused and targets a level of performance appropriate for the course.
  • Student-Centered - All learning outcomes should focus on the student. An effective learning outcome will explain expectations for student behavior, performance, or understanding. To ensure that learning outcomes are student- centered, a good learning outcome should appropriately complete the statement "The student will..."
  • Specific Conditions - Learning outcomes should be specific and target one expectation or aspect of understanding and highlight the conditions under which the student is expected to perform the task. The conditions of the outcome should communicate the situation, tools, references, or aids that will be provided for the student.
  • Specific Standards of Performance - Each learning outcome should be measurable and include the criteria for evaluating student performance. Generally, standards provide information to clarify to what extent a student must perform to be judged adequate; thus effective learning outcomes indicate a degree of accuracy, a quantity of correct responses or some other type of measurable information. Standards serve the dual purpose of informing students of performance expectations and providing insight as to how achievement of these expectations will be measured. Since students will utilize the standards to guide their performance, be sure to use specific terminology that has limited interpretations and ensure that all students understand the same interpretation.

Tips for Developing Effective, Measurable Program Learning Outcomes


The following tips will help guide you in crafting effective, measurable program and course learning outcomes. To be measurable, outcomes need to be as specific, focused and as clearly stated as possible.  General outcomes will always be very hard to measure.  Essentially, we want to know how student learning will be demonstrated.

  • Learning outcomes should have two parts: an action verb and a content area. Utilize the action verb to specify the desired student performance followed by a specific description of the course-specific content target.
     
  • Keep statements short and focused on a single outcome. This allows instructors to determine whether or not an objective has been met without having to distinguish between partial completion or complete success.
     
  • To ensure that learning outcomes are effective and measurable, avoid using verbs that are vague or cannot be objectively assessed. Use active verbs that describe what a student will be able to do once learning has occurred.
     
  • Learning outcomes should be student-focused and target the expected student outcome. To assist in maintaining a student-centered emphasis, start learning outcomes with the phrase "The learner/student will be able to. . ."
     
  • Learning outcomes should be SMART (specific, measurable, acceptable to the instructor, realistic to achieve, and time-bound with a deadline).
     
  • Include complex or higher-order learning outcomes when they are appropriate. Most instructors expect students to go beyond memorization of facts and terminology; learning outcomes should reflect instructors’ expectations for student performance.
     
  • Utilize learning outcomes as a basis for course preparation. Learning outcomes should match instructional strategies and assessment requirements. To ensure the connection between various course activities, it is useful to construct a table highlighting the relationship.  For example:
LEARNING OUTCOMES INSTRUCTIONAL ACTIVITIES ASSESSMENT

Students will be able to differentiate between qualitative and quantitative assessment


Lecture, Group Activity
Term papers, Senior Project,  Assessment Portfolio, Mastery questions, Oral Presentation

Examples: Using the Best Action Verbs for Program Learning Outcomes 

Very hard to measure STILL TOO HARD
TO MEASURE
RELATIVELY EASY
T0 MEASURE
Students will be able to Students will be able to

 

Students will be able to

 

appreciate the benefits of exercise. value exercise as a stress reduction tool explain how exercise affects stress.
access resources in the college library database. recognize problem solving skills that would enable one to adequately navigate through the proper resources within the college.

evaluate the most appropriate resource that is pertinent to their college concern.

develop problem-solving skills and conflict resolution. understand how to resolve personal conflicts and assist others in resolving conflicts. demonstrate to classmates how to resolve conflicts by helping them negotiate agreements.
have more confidence in their abilities.
identify critical thinking skills, such as problem solving as it relates to social issues.

demonstrate the ability to analyze and respond to arguments about racial discrimination.

Bloom's Taxonomy (1964)

is a well-known description of levels of educational objectives.  It may be useful to consider this taxonomy when defining your learning outcomes.

Most courses in higher education focus on the cognitive domain, thus it is important to examine various levels of cognitive understanding. The cognitive domain is broken-down into six categories: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Generally, instructors will want to design learning objectives to target a range of levels of student understanding. The phrasing of learning objectives will help guide both instructional activities and assessment, thus instructors should carefully select the emphasis of learning and the relevant verb.

Level Category cognitive behavior
1 Knowledge to know specific facts, terms, concepts, principles, or  theories
2 Comprehension to understand, interpret, compare and contrast, explain
3 Application to apply knowledge to new situations, to solve problems
4 Analysis to identify the organizational structure of something; to identify parts, relationships, and organizing principles
5 Synthesis to create something, to integrate ideas into a solution, to propose an action plan, to formulate a new classification scheme
6 Evaluation to judge the quality of something based on its adequency, value, logic or use 

Choose Clear, Measurable Action Verbs.  Avoid Vague Verbs.

Concrete verbs such as “define,” “argue,” or “create” are more helpful for assessment than vague verbs such as “know,” “understand,” or passive verbs such as “be exposed to.”

Some examples of action words frequently used in learning outcomes are included in the table below based on Bloom’s levels of cognitive behaviors.
 

Knowledge

Comprehension

Application

Analysis

Synthesis

Evaluation

define

classify

apply

analyze

arrange

appraise

identify

describe

compute

appraise

assemble

assess

indicate

discuss

construct

calculate

collect

choose

know

explain

demonstrate

categorize

compose

compare

label

express

dramatize

compare

construct

contrast

list

identify

employ

contrast

create

decide

memorize

locate

give examples

criticize

design

estimate

name

paraphrase

illustrate

debate

formulate

evaluate

recall

recognize

interpret

determine

manage

grade

record

report

investigate

diagram

organize

judge

relate

restate

operate

differentiate

perform

measure

repeat

review

organize

distinguish

plan

rate

select

suggest

practice

examine

prepare

revise

underline

summarize

predict

experiment

produce

score

 

tell

schedule

inspect

propose

select

 

translate

shop

inventory

set-up

value

 

 

sketch

question

 

 

 

 

translate

relate

 

 

 

 

use

solve

 

 

The Three Domains of Learning


Depending on the course goals, learning outcomes may target a range of skills or cognitive processes. Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy of educational objectives differentiates between three domains of learning: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor.

domain target focus
Cognitive Knowledge, intellectual skills

Mind

Affective Attitudes, interests, feelings, values, adjustments Spirit
Psychomotor Motor and manipulations skills Body

adapted from California State University, Bakersfield, PACT Outcomes Assessment Handbook (1999).

Related Content

Our Staff

Contact Giving
          Contact Us