What are Program Learning Outcomes?
Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs) are specific statements that clearly describe what students will know (content knowledge), be able to do (skills) and/or value (attitudes) when they have completed an academic program.
Why have Program Learning Outcomes?
When PLOs are understood by students, they
- focus better in their studies (Wood, 2003, 2004)
- probe more deeply into their learning (Biggs, 1999)
- remember more content from their courses (Halpern & Hakel, 2003)
- are able to apply their learning better (Halpern & Hakel, 2003)
How to articulate Program Learning Outcomes that promote student success?
There is no precise formula for writing outcome statements, but here are some guidelines. PLOs should:
- Align to the program’s goals and mission.
- Describe the most important knowledge, skills and values relevant to your discipline.
- Be stated in simple language, following this general format:
- Program graduates will be able to [action verb] + [something].
- Use action verbs that result in overt behavior that can be observed and measured
- Bloom’s Taxonomy is a useful classification of learning objectives and represents the process of learning. The examples of active verbs provided along the continuum emphasize what a learner “can do”.
- Articulate the specific level and type of competence appropriate to the degree (Emphasis, CER, AS/AAS, BA/BS).
- Be observable and measureable.
- Be rigorous but attainable outcomes.
Where to turn to for ideas?
- Institutional mission and values
- Institutional Goals
- Disciplinary associations
- Bloom’s Taxonomy
- Faculty interest, commitments and expertise
- Employer feedback
- Alumni feedback
- Peer institutions’ websites
An Example of Revising a Program Learning Outcome (taken from A Program Guide for Outcomes Assessment at Geneva College, April 2000):
Poorly stated PLO:
Students should know the historically important systems of psychology.
- Does not say what systems
- Does not say what information should be known about the systems
- Recognize names?
- Recite central ideas?
- Criticize assumptions?
Better stated PLO:
Students should understand the psychoanalytic, Gestalt, behaviorist, humanistic, and cognitive approaches to psychology.
- Says what theories
- Does not detail what should be known or how deeply they should understand
Best stated PLO:
Students should be able to recognize and articulate the foundational assumptions, central ideas, and dominant criticisms of the psychoanalytic, Gestalt, behaviorist, humanistic, and cognitive approaches to psychology.
- Clear specific statement
- Students understand target
- Provides faculty with a reasonable standard
Suskie, L. (2009). Developing Learning Goals. In Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide (2nd edition) (pp. 115-134). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
NILOA’s Transparency Framework for Providing Evidence of Student Learning