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Assessment of Student Learning

Writing Measurable Outcomes  

In contrast to Goals, that are general, broad, often abstract statements of desired results, Outcomes are specific and measurable and must reflect the curriculum. They express a benefit or "value added" that a student can demonstrate upon completion of an academic program or course. An outcome contains all three of the following elements:


  • what is to be learned (knowledge, skill, attitude),
  • what level of learning is to be achieved (criteria, standard), and
  • under what conditions the learning is to be demonstrated (environment, support, etc.).


STEP 1: Identify Institutional and Programmatic Values and Goals

A) Review K-State's Undergraduate or Graduate Learning Outcome statements.

B) Define the outcomes (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) you want students to display as a result of their educational experience and best reflect the goals of your program.

These should come from consensus faculty/staff (including students and alumni, ideally) Consult the web site for your professional/disciplinary organization – many of them are developing student learning outcomes for degree or service programs. If your program is affected by entities such as outside accrediting agencies or potential employers, you may want to include some of the following steps:

    • review internal and external policy statements for information relevant to educational values,
    • identify values (i.e., "what matters") to students, accrediting agencies, employers, the community,
    • review common themes in instructional materials,
    • ask, "What should the learner expect to gain from the program"?
STEP 2: Translate these outcomes into the language of measurable, observable behaviors

1) Key Phrase: The student will...

2) Statement of Desired Behaviors (indicator of knowledge, skills or attitudes): An action verb and a description of that action. The more specific the verb, the better the outcome. Consider the level of difficulty and cognitive processes according to Bloom's Taxonomy.

3) Statements about conditions: Under what circumstances, in what environment will the student perform?

4) Statements about expected rigor: At what level or to what criteria must the student perform?

Understand that the outcome will be revised several times before becoming firm (or definitive) and will change over time for currency in the discipline or service area and changing needs and characteristics of students.

  • Knowledge: The student will understand the relationship between theory and practice.
  • Skill: Critical Thinking.
  • Attitude: The student will enjoy music.

  • Knowledge: The student will solve formula, ingredient function, processing, production, and customer problems making decisions based upon relevant and objective scientific information to meet quality, safety and economic expectations.
  • Skill:  The student will use a variety of effective verbal and non-verbal communication techniques to foster active inquiry, collaboration, and supportive interaction in the classroom.
  • Attitude: The student will demonstrate an understanding of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and, as appropriate, forms of diversity in domestic society exemplifying significant interaction in a global community. 
STEP 3: Communicate Learning Outcomes
  • Within two click of your program homepage, post the student learning outcomes.
  • List the student learning outcomes on every syllabus for the required courses in your degree program (or programs within your student service area), indicating which of them will be covered in each particular course (or service program).
  • Include annual discussions of student learning outcomes at faculty, curriculum development, and strategic planning meetings.
STEP 4: Implement Assessments and Analyze Findings
  • Gather feedback from students in each course or service program about how well they perceive that student learning outcomes were addressed.
  • Assess student learning by designing assignments specifically geared to measure achievement of each of the outcomes that are designated for each course, degree program, or service area.

  • In light of this data, meet (with faculty, staff, and students) at the end of each semester or academic year and revise the list of outcomes, teaching methods, curriculum, and/or program.

  • Repeat the above steps regularly and as needed to improve student learning. 

Practical Suggestions for Program Outcome Development
  • Review your list of potential outcomes, asking, "Can any of these outcomes be combined"? and "Are each of these outcomes essential to our program"?
  • Include only those outcomes that are essential in your assessment plan.
  • Externally accredited programs may necessarily have more outcomes than programs not externally accredited. 
  • Consider developing a matrix of program outcomes and program courses.  In which course/s or activities will outcome "X" be assessed?
  • Establish a timeline for assessment of each outcome.  During which year of your program review cycle will that outcome be assessed? Remember, not every outcome needs to be assessed every year.  All outcomes need to be assessed at least once during the program review cycle.
  • There are many ways to measure outcomes. Of primary consideration is to reflect how students authentically demonstrate their learning.
  • Assessment is the responsibility of all faculty, although not all coursework leads to programmatic assessment reporting. Program faculty are responsible for establishing the recency, relevance, and rigor of the SLOs for their degree programs. As curriculum evolves, learning outcomes change. Three guiding principles frame the review of existing SLOs: recency, relevance, and rigor.
    • Recency has to do with the degree to which the outcome reflects current knowledge and practice in the discipline.
    • Relevance is the degree to which the outcome relates logically and significantly to the discipline.
    • Rigor has to do with the degree of academic precision and thoroughness required for the outcome to be met successfully.

Course-level Student Learning Outcomes

Similar to the college and degree program levels, student learning outcomes at the course level identify the knowledge, skills, and dispositions students are expected to acquire by the end of the course. Some of the learning outcomes should be connected to those for the degree program, while others may be very specific to the course such as learning a set of techniques for conducting an experiment.

Student learning outcomes are statements of things that students will know, understand, or be able to do at the end of a course. Student learning outcomes: 
  • Are the basis for assessment of student learning at the course, program, and institutional levels.
  • Provide direction and focus for all teaching and learning activity.
  • Inform students about what they are expected to learn in each course, degree program, or student service program.
 Effective statements of student learning outcomes:
  • are student-focused rather than professor-focused.
  • focus on the learning resulting from an activity rather than the activity itself.
  • are in alignment at the course, academic program, and institutional levels.
  • focus on important, non-trivial aspects of learning.
  • focus on skills and abilities central to the discipline and based on professional standards of excellence.
  • are general enough to capture important learning but clear and specific enough to be measurable.

Source: Huba, M.E., & Freed, J.E. (2000). Learner-centered assessment on college campuses: Shifting the focus from teaching to learning. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.



Source/Reference: These steps were derived from information collected at various conferences by Dr. Cia Verschelden. She tailored the information to fit the approach that was implemented at Kansas State University in the fall of 2002.