Student learning outcomes state what students are expected to know or be able to do upon completion of a course or program. Course learning outcomes may contribute, or map to, program learning outcomes, and are required in group instruction course syllabi.
At both the course and program level, student learning outcomes should be clear, observable and measurable, and reflect what will be included in the course or program requirements (assignments, exams, projects, etc.). Typically there are 3-7 course learning outcomes and 3-7 program learning outcomes.
When submitting learning outcomes for course or program approvals, or assessment planning and reporting, please:
- Begin with a verb (exclude any introductory text and the phrase “Students will…”, as this is assumed)
- Limit the length of each learning outcome to 400 characters
- Exclude special characters (e.g., accents, umlats, ampersands, etc.)
- Exclude special formatting (e.g., bullets, dashes, numbering, etc.)
Steps for Writing Outcomes
The following are recommended steps for writing clear, observable and measurable student learning outcomes. In general, use student-focused language, begin with action verbs and ensure that the learning outcomes demonstrate actionable attributes.
1. Begin with an Action Verb
Begin with an action verb that denotes the level of learning expected. Terms such as know, understand, learn, appreciate are generally not specific enough to be measurable. Levels of learning and associated verbs may include the following:
- Remembering and understanding: recall, identify, label, illustrate, summarize.
- Applying and analyzing: use, differentiate, organize, integrate, apply, solve, analyze.
- Evaluating and creating: Monitor, test, judge, produce, revise, compose.
Consult Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (below) for more details. For additional sample action verbs, consult Effective Use of Performance Objectives for Learning and Assessment.
2. Follow with a Statement
- Statement – The statement should describe the knowledge and abilities to be demonstrated. For example:
- Identify and summarize the important feature of major periods in the history of western culture
- Apply important 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
- Length – Should be no more than 400 characters.
*Note: Any special characters (e.g., accents, umlats, ampersands, etc.) and formatting (e.g., bullets, dashes, numbering, etc.) will need to be removed when submitting learning outcomes through AEFIS and other digital campus systems.
Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning: The “Cognitive” Domain
*In 1956, Benjamin Bloom and colleagues differentiated six levels of learning in the “cognitive” domain and proposed a list of skills that would indicate understanding at each level. In 2001, Anderson, Krathwohl and colleagues revised the taxonomy. The lowest levels (which are most commonly tested in exams) are based on knowledge of factual information. Understanding at higher levels is indicated by more complex skills in evaluation, synthesis, or the creation of new information.
To the right: find a sampling of verbs that represent learning at each level. Find additional action verbs.
Going beyond Bloom, find two additional taxonomies for writing learning outcomes.
*Text adapted from:
Bloom, B.S. (Ed.) 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook 1, Cognitive Domain. New York.
Anderson, L.W. (Ed.), Krathwohl, D.R. (Ed.), Airasian, P.W., Cruikshank, K.A., Mayer, R.E., Pintrich, P.R., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M.C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Complete edition). New York: Longman.
Examples of Academic Program Learning Outcomes
The following examples of academic program student learning outcomes come from a variety of academic programs across campus, and are organized in four broad areas: 1) contextualization of knowledge; 2) praxis and technique; 3) critical thinking; and, 4) research and communication.
Student learning outcomes for each UW-Madison undergraduate and graduate academic program can be found in The Guide. Click on the program of your choosing to find its designated learning outcomes.
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Contextualization of Knowledge
- identify, formulate and solve problems using appropriate information and approaches.
- demonstrate their understanding of major theories, approaches, concepts, and current and classical research findings in the area of concentration.
- apply knowledge of mathematics, chemistry, physics, and materials science and engineering principles to materials and materials systems.
- demonstrate an understanding of the basic biology of microorganisms.
Praxis and Technique
- utilize the techniques, skills and modern tools necessary for practice.
- demonstrate professional and ethical responsibility.
- appropriately apply laws, codes, regulations, architectural and interiors standards that protect the health and safety of the public.
- recognize, describe, predict, and analyze systems behavior.
- evaluate evidence to determine and implement best practice.
- examine technical literature, resolve ambiguity and develop conclusions.
- synthesize knowledge and use insight and creativity to better understand and improve systems.
Research and Communication
- retrieve, analyze, and interpret the professional and lay literature providing information to both professionals and the public.
- propose original research: outlining a plan, assembling the necessary protocol, and performing the original research.
- design and conduct experiments, and analyze and interpret data.
- write clear and concise technical reports and research articles.
- communicate effectively through written reports, oral presentations and discussion.
- guide, mentor and support peers to achieve excellence in practice of the discipline.
- work in multi-disciplinary teams and provide leadership on materials-related problems that arise in multi-disciplinary work.
Examples of Course Learning Outcomes
- identify, formulate and solve integrative chemistry problems. (Chemistry)
- build probability models to quantify risks of an insurance system, and use data and technology to make appropriate statistical inferences. (Actuarial Science)
- use basic vector, raster, 3D design, video and web technologies in the creation of works of art. (Art)
- apply differential calculus to model rates of change in time of physical and biological phenomena. (Math)
- identify characteristics of certain structures of the body and explain how structure governs function. (Human Anatomy lab)
- calculate the magnitude and direction of magnetic fields created by moving electric charges. (Physics)
- Bloom’s Taxonomy
- National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment – Student Learning Outcomes Statement Resources
- College of Agricultural & Life Sciences Undergraduate Learning Outcomes
- College of Letters & Science Undergraduate Learning Outcomes
- A Common Sense Approach to Assessment & Accreditation, Linda Suskie – “What are the characteristics of well-stated learning goals?”